David Berman is the only poet I've ever known. He didn't call himself one. He didn't dabble in poetry. He didn't try to impress people with his poetry. When I met him at the age of 18, I had known people who attempted poetry. They tried to sit down and write poems. I tried in English class a few times. I didn't know what I was doing and felt ambivalent about my mediocre work. I had little appreciation of poetry. David changed that. 

In his relentless manner, he was either discreetly or openly working on poetry a large part of the time that he was awake. It was all collecting both observations of people he knew and those of strangers: reading the work of others, listening to music but prioritizing lyrics, and so on. There was an ease to the way he figured things out even if he was wrong. He was all notes, all of the time: his best work had origins on cocktail napkins, sticky notes, and receipts. He would self-isolate to work it all out. I would leave him be for as long as he wanted hoping he would. Hours and sometimes days would go by where his bedroom door was shut. "Everything alright in there David?" "Need any food or anything?" "I'm good. I'll be out in a few hours." I hoped he was amusing himself so that he could amuse me down the road. Often, he was.

Though he was being taught by the likes of Charles Wright and James Tate, both esteemed poets in their own right, their names were just austere sounding to me. Seemingly, David was writing to entertain himself firstly and his mates secondly. I loved his work and understood like eighty percent of it. The other twenty percent he would explain to me. "Get it Bob?" "Now I do. Thanks." His crudely-drawn cartoons which accompanied the majority of his work added a delightful impact to his words. As it turned out, Wright and Tate became fast fans as well.

To his peers and friends that wrote well like Steve Healey, Eric Forst, Rob Chamberlain, Gate Pratt, Matt Bakkom, Hunter Kennedy and others, he was both a source of intimidation and a god. Admirably, they held their own. When I was a young adult, I knew that one of my best friends was one of the best poets of his generation. Even if I was wrong, the sense of possibility in that belief helped me take more adventurous paths and throw much caution to the wind. The association bolstered my confidence. Talented friends can do that. 

I imagine there are many excellent poets out there both unknown and known. Ada Limón and Maggie Smith are a pair I'm aware of who are well known. Poetry is a tough game, I think.

I remember sitting on a couch and having David, while hovering over me, proclaim: "You can't change the feeling. You can only change the feeling about the feeling." He was excited that he'd just written that and was repeating it and laughing. We were about 20. Around the same time, I have a clear memory of watching through David's bedroom window as he typed in a trance. He hadn't realized he'd drawn blood from chewing his bottom lip. It was gruesome actually. Dude was intense. There were many scintillating, revelatory moments like that. Who wouldn't miss moments like that? I do. I'm also pleased to have known him well as long as I did. Much of the time it was a thrill.

Bob Nastanovich
Margate, England, UK
13 October 2021

Bob Nastanovich (@bnastanovich) was a founding member of Silver Jews and David Berman's friend and collaborator over many years. He continues to play in Pavement with fellow Silver Jews co-founder Stephen Malkmus.