It’s easy to dismiss boxing. Barbaric. Ugly. Pointless. A sport that’s not sport, that often has dangerous consequences, sometimes fatal. But that’s too easy. The drama in boxing parallels life drama. At its best and most professional and most beautiful, a fight becomes an almost-ritualistic dance on canvas. Adam Berlin’s poetry collection The Standing Eight points beyond boxing and goes to those between-round places where an eight count is both reprieve and curse.
The Standing Eight contains multitudes. This is a collection of poems that focuses on boxing—and so much more. Adam Berlin’s visceral world teems with street brawlers and clever counterpunchers, heavy drinkers and chess players, but especially fathers and sons. There are moving meditations on the loss of the poet’s father; equally moving is a study of three young sons rooting on their underdog father from ringside. You’d expect Mike Tyson to swagger through these poems, or the tragic Johnny Tapia; but Shakespeare is here too, and Eugene O’Neill, and Dylan Thomas, and Edward Hopper. Unflinchingly honest, relentlessly intelligent, The Standing Eight should be read by anyone who has ever thrown or taken a punch—and everybody else.
— Martín Espada
“If all the world’s a stage, for Adam Berlin it’s a boxing ring; the megalomaniac intelligence of these poems bring us not only Mike Tyson, but Hamlet’s father, Edward Hopper, lovers, brothers, Tony Soprano and New York City. Whether or not you are knocked down, the grace period of reading these poems will bring you to your feet—with great passion.”
—Jessica Greenbaum, author of The Two Yvonnes: Poems, Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets, and Inventing Difficulty
“In poems that are “stripped down” like the faces of fighters, fighters who are “different from ordinary men,” Adam Berlin writes from inside the gym, from inside the ring, and from inside the minds of the fighters themselves to demonstrate “what’s here, what’s beautiful.” In their narrative thrust, in lines taut with tension or fluid with grace, the poems reach beyond the lives of these fathers and sons to touch us all. The Standing Eight is a solid addition to the literature of boxing.”
—Michael Waters, co-editor of Perfect in Their Art: Poems on Boxing from Homer to Ali; author, most recently, of Celestial Joyride