Monday, February 23, 2009

Ted Berrigan


The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan
Edited by Alice Notely (University of California Press)

It's not enough that we have the same first name and the same Irish second initial, my attraction to Berrigan's poems was the rather nonbelligerent way he ignored the constricting formalities in poetry and rendered something of a record of his thoughts unspooling as he walked through the neighborhood or went about his tasks.
"Where Will I Wander" is the title of a recent John Ashbery volume, and it might well be an apt description of Berrigan's style; shambling, personal, messy, yet able to draw out the sublime phrase or the extended insight from the myriad places his stanzas and line shifts would land on.

10 THINGS I DO EVERY DAY
by Ted Berrigan

wake up
smoke pot
see the cat
love my wife
think of Frank

eat lunch
make noises
sing songs
go out
dig the streets

go home for dinner
read the Post
make pee-pee
two kids
grin

read books
see my friends
get pissed-off
have a Pepsi
disappear


This takes my breath away, the idea of a series of sighs and mumbled asides rise to an audible sequence and provide the minimal but powerful considered portrait of the daily grind, the awful routines we commit to rather than pursue our what once might have been thought of as our true callings; the voice hangs on the end of the short lines, as if in suspension, waiting for an affirmative line or joke to lighten the tone, but this remains the bone-picked image of borderline despair, the slow death.
"...have a Pepsi /disappear..." encapsulates the mood , and makes it clear that sometimes one feels the words one speaks to others comes from elsewhere, not our souls, certainly not our mouths.

The world radiated a magic and energy well enough without the poet's talents for making essences clear to an audience needing to know something more about what lies behind the veil, and Berrigan's gift were his personable conflations of cartoon logic, antic flights of lyric waxing, and darkest hour reflection , a poetry which, at it's best, seemed less a poem than it did a monologue from someone already aware that their world was extraordinary and that their task was to record one's ongoing incomprehension of the why of the invisible world.

1 comment:

  1. I was a friend of Ted's not because he was a poem, I lived nearby. I visited. Nagged. Called him once the best and worst poet in America; that places him well ahead of the majority. He was lyrical. At his best he sang like a bud.

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