This is a review by Cory Rohr of the book Tender Points by Amy Berkowitz, published by Timeless Infinite Light.
“I don’t particularly like riddles. But then again, neither did travelers passing through Thebes. They didn’t try to solve the Sphinx’s riddle because they craved the intellectual challenge. They tried to solve it because the Sphinx killed anyone who didn’t.”
In the face of a distrustful public, incredulous media, and abusive authority Amy Berkowitz exposes tender points–likely the only quantifiable identifiers of a deep, personal puzzle without a solution in sight. A sensitivity that cannot be proved is not trusted: this shaky proof is repeatedly disregarded by people that have not experienced it. And yet, Tender Points is a clear and vivid look into the muddied hurt below the surface, a novella in poems about living with pain. This work immediately establishes a distinct mode that compliments its subjects. The writing is hard and cutting, direct and purposeful; for flowery, garish, effeminate poetry would undermine the severity contained therein. In addition to avoiding discreditable writing, these poems decry suffering silently, especially at the hands of systematic oppression and sexual violence. Community members alike in their experiences or close enough to those within their network can alleviate the assaults of and exorcise misogyny.
“Welcome to the Myspace of my constant pain.”
But why write about pain? Does writing about pain help us connect with other people? Perhaps it is easier than answering every “how are you?” with “I am in a near-constant state of pain and today is no exception.” Or as a form of analysis? to draw out the atrocities of memory as an attempt to qualify them somehow?
As an answer, Amy Berkowitz takes you by the hand–which may sometimes recoil from the pain, but is no less steady–and guides you through the labyrinth of life in the wake of trauma. Tender Points is filled with illustrative characters: forgetfulness is likened to a hero, a respite from the grinding of pain. However, that hero is unreliable and often missing; occasionally pops up as a lover whose fate is uncertain and evidently leaves room for that villain of memory to come around again. Even so, the villain is not consistent, painted in the difficulty to remember– that unreliable ability shrouds the truth as “big black holes in my memory become part of the story,” altering one’s life. These abstractions are more consistent, more apparent companions than people.
“I’m writing about the violence of patriarchal culture. I’m writing about the uneven balance of power in female-patient / male-doctor relationships. I’m aware of a certain home-team advantage, and I will not dare write this in anything that can’t pass for straight masculine prose. It’s not that this isn’t écriture féminine, but it’s écriture féminine en homme.”
Again that instigative part of me asks WHY BOTHER WRITING ABOUT PAIN? Why explicate so deeply personal an experience? There is no light at the end of the tunnel, just a deeper network of tunnels–but that could be my hysteria settling in. When I try to write about trauma, about pain, there is some bleak hope within me that wonders, what if I capture it perfectly? If somehow I can accurately share this experience and the many ways it manifests in my life, maybe then the pain will ease. Maybe then it won’t feel like the cliche weight on my chest or cloud over my head.And although there may not be a perfect representation of such a personal experience, Tender Points weaves the scraps of life as they unfold and resurface into a familiar blanket. Throughout this work the reader is imbued with an aching catharsis, leaving the impression that a tactful community could fill such a network of tunnels with hope.
“Here is a painting: Two women float on rafts, bird’s-eye view. You can see two stripes of a red bikini and two stripes of a blue bikini. On the shore, a dog buries its ball in the sand. The sun is just starting to set and the water is a soft greenish-black.
The title of the painting is: Brilliant Women Talking About Rape Again (Instead of Talking About Their Art or Any Other Topic).”
“That’s what these paintings are about. They are visualizing how much of a woman’s life can be spent processing the trauma of sexual violence, helping other women heal, strategizing ways to make safer communities. They are honoring the work we are doing in these conversations.
I think of the subversive WPA murals, grand cubist factory scenes with a little hammer and sickle in the corner. These paintings have the same motivation: to celebrate the strength of the worker while also criticizing the system that forces her to work.
I would very much like to walk into a room full of these paintings.
So then why won’t I paint them?
It’s not that I don’t have any paint. And it’s not that I’m an awful painter. And it’s not that I don’t have the time.
It’s that someone else should paint them.
I don’t want these paintings to be paintings of me and my friends having these conversations. I think a lot of us are having these conversations. If not in lakes, in oceans. If not in bars, in cafes. These paintings are of all of us. These paintings are yours to paint.”
Cory Rohr is a writer and musician living in Brooklyn, NY.