Sunday, January 11, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 14.3 (Ted Berrigan)

The Sonnets
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Berrigan, Ted
The Sonnets

One of the first things I did when I arrived at SUNY BUffalo was to go to the Poetry Collection to see the original "C" Press edition of The Sonnets. They have the entire run of "C" Magazine and "C" Press in the collection here, along with just about everything else pertaining to poetry printed in the last 100 years. All of them are side-stapled newsprint mimeograph books with card stock covers, usually by Joe Brainard, but at least one if not more by Andy Warhol. Even the archive copies are in pretty rough shape, but it was amazing to see them. It was also the first chance I had to read The Sonnets cover to cover. At that time, 1997, they were still hard to find. (I saw a copy of the first edition once for sale for $35,000. I wonder if it ever sold).

It was a pretty transformative experience. My first chapbook, The Necessary Elephant, is all sonnets and was written in my first year in Buffalo. Several years later, this edition finally appeared, allowing me to keep a copy of my own. I go back to read them somewhat regularly, and I would rank them in my "top ten most important poems to me" category.

Where I had erred in my initial reading of TB was in thinking that he was imitating Frank O'Hara. He was not imitating him so much as co-opting him, as he was Shakespeare and Olson and Ashbery and anyone else who had a line or two he found useful. And his genius was in his ability (to paraphrase O'Hara's description of Pollack) to co-opt these other works and then give them back to the reader whole and unchanged, yet transformed by their new setting.

Obviously, Pound and Olson could be considered precursors to this kind of poetic practice, but Berrigan's work reads not one bit like either. A few years ago I was back in the poetry collection reading Berrigan's early notebooks, some dating back as far as his college days, when I discovered he had written a lot of film criticism in his Tulsa college days and was particularly interested in Eisenstein's theories of montage. It strikes me that that concept is closer to what The Sonnets are attempting than the kind of myth-making that Olson and Pound were interested in.

Anyhow, here's a good one:


Dear Ron: Keats was a baiter of bears           etc.
Tenseness, but strength, outward              And the green
flinging currents into pouring streams             The "Jeune filles"
so rare               Today I think about all those radio waves
a slow going down of the Morning Land
the great speckle bird at last extinct                (a reference
to Herman Melville)           at heart we are infinite, we are
ethereal, we are weird!               Each tree stands alone in stillness.
Your head spins when the old bull rushes                (Back in the city
He was not a midget, and preferred to be known as a stuntman)
gosh, I gulp to be here in my skin! What thwarts this fear
I love                 Everything turns into writing (and who falters)
I LIKE TO BEAT PEOPLE UP!!!                       (absence of principles, passion
) love. White boats         Green banks         Grace to be born and

1 comment:

Violetwrites said...

excellent idea to take what successful writers do and re-do in your own voice. I like that!
I've done practice writings like that. Pick anyone you like and imitate. Actually quite easy to do.
The thing is everyone says they want fresh and new voices but that's so untrue, what they really want is people who know how to do what's been done before.
Se la ve ~