In Which A Remembered Gift Sends Us Into a Fury of Lexical Detachment and John Berryman Says He’s Been Reading The Old Journals

Ted Berrigan, by Alex Katz.

‘Fucking Is So Very Lovely/ Who Can Say No To It Later’

by Will Hubbard

This week a good friend of mine gave me a wonderful book. It’s called Nice to See You: Homage to Ted Berrigan, and includes an abundance of worthwhile insight into one particular circle of friends operating just after the publication of Donald Allen’s New American Poetry anthology.

They are mostly Berrigan’s friends and associates, people like Ron Padgett, Clark Coolidge, Donna Dennis, Larry Fagin, Philip Whalen, Dick Gallup, Anne Waldman, Anselm Hollo, along with the familiar crowd of Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, and Frank O’Hara present as well.

Berrigan seemed to have a particular way of bringing folks together to listen, and all included in this collection of prose and verse seem to have found much excitement in his life and work.

You’ll always be beautiful…in my eyes.

“Red Shift” — Ted Berrigan (mp3)

“Today in Ann Arbor” — Ted Berrigan (mp3)

You can listen to more of Ted at UbuWeb.

Nation review of Ted’s collected:

If you read about Berrigan, you’re bound to learn about his reckless treatment of his body and his ghastly diet (he subsisted mostly on Pepsi, greasy hamburgers and peanut butter sandwiches), or about how he forged prescriptions to buy the many milligrams of speed that fueled his marathon sessions of writing, reading, talking and pontificating. Such snapshots of Berrigan’s personal life are meaningful, but they provide little guidance for anyone trying to grasp how the words Berrigan wrote continue to live beyond the life he led, an undertaking made more difficult as only a relatively small amount of Berrigan’s poetry has remained in print since his death.

Though his first major collection of poems, The Sonnets, did not come out until 1964, and was thus late for the New American Poetry, I was disappointed to learn that Berrigan has been ‘edited out’ of many of the major anthologies of 20th century poetry, including the Norton.

Years ago I went to Providence’s lovely John Hay Library and read The Sonnets all the way through. Not only is the Hay’s copy remarkable—one of the original 300 numbered, staple bound copies, bearing the imprint of Ron Padgett’s own original typewriter transcription—the poems themselves stand out to me as a major achievement in contemporary verse.

Alice Notley, Anselm, & Edmund.

In the book, which lasts 88 sonnets, Berrigan creates series of poems that deal in a recurring currency of images, each poem a development or interpretation of the poems preceding, and often including several of the lines of the previous poems verbatim but in alternate location. Berrigan also lifts lines from the poems of his friends—Padgett, Gallup, and O’Hara especially—achieving a collage effect, but also demonstrating the intimacy of this particular group of New York poets.

“To Jack Kerouac” — Ted Berrigan (mp3)

There are other innovative reconceptions of the sonnet form as well, and I include below sonnet XV in which Berrigan has employed his scissors more than his pen:

In Joe Brainard’s collage its white arrow
he is not in it, the hungry dead doctor.
Or Marilyn Monroe, her white teeth white–
I am truly horribly upset because Marilyn
and ate King Korn popcorn,” he wrote in his
of glass in Joe Brainard’s collage
Doctor, but they say “I LOVE YOU”
and the sonnet is not dead.
takes the eyes away from the gray words,
Diary. The black heart beside the fifteen pieces
Monroe died, so I went to a matinee B-movie
washed by Joe’s throbbing hands. “Today
What is in it is sixteen ripped pictures
does not point to William Carlos Williams.

What gems have to do with spas is revealed in a sonnet that was never written.

This poem is difficult, but rewarding I think, to read in order. Now try it by reading the first line, then the last line, then the second line, then the second to last line, etc. Though this reading is easier, it does not achieve the avoidance of rational sense that the top-to-bottom reading does. Top-to-bottom, we do not hear the narrative but we hear the emotions contained within the images, and the way Berrigan has arranged the lines in sonnet XV allows, I think, a much more complex emotional experience than if the lines were in correct order.

Berrigan’s favorite line in The Sonnets: “Fucking is so very lovely/ who can say no to it later?”

Reading that poem again now, hearing it begin with “Everyone is suddenly pregnant”, I cannot disagree.

Berrigan also thought that Frank O’Hara was the only poet he needed to read for inspiration—“Everything is there!” He was right, and made good on that insight, extending O’Hara’s project of immediate verbal engagement:

Sonnet XXXVI

after Frank O’Hara

It’s 8:54 a.m. in Brooklyn it’s the 28th of July and

it’s probably 8:54 in Manhattan but I’m

in Brooklyn I’m eating English muffins and drinking

pepsi and I’m thinking of how Brooklyn is New

York city too how odd I usually think of it as

something all its own like Bellows Falls like Little

Chute like Uijongbu

I never thought on the Williams-

burg bridge I’d come so much to Brooklyn

just to see lawyers and cops who don’t even carry

guns taking my wife away and bringing her back


and I never thought Dick would be back at Gude’s

beard shaved off long hair cut and Carol reading

his books when we were playing cribbage and

watching the sun come up over the Navy Yard

across the river

Williamsburg Bridge, 1904.

I think I was thinking when I was

ahead I’d be somewhere like Perry street erudite

dazzlingly slim and badly loved

contemplating my new book of poems

to be printed in simple type on old brown paper

feminine marvelous and tough

Will Hubbard is a writer living in Williamsburg. Would you like to know more?


“Cinnamon (acoustic)” — The Long Winters (mp3)

“Carry You” — Dispatch (mp3)

“I Want You To Stay (Field Music remix)” — Maximo Park (mp3)

“The Limit to Your Love” — Feist (mp3)

“Slowly (Hot Chip Mix)” — Max Sedgely (mp3)


Unplayed Piano. I can still hold a tune.

Becca on kid art.

Our Midwest correspondent chimed in.

3 thoughts on “In Which A Remembered Gift Sends Us Into a Fury of Lexical Detachment and John Berryman Says He’s Been Reading The Old Journals

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