Ted Berrigan

Barbara Guest in C: A journal of poetry

'Looking at Flowers Through Tears' and 'Sturm Nacht'

Barbara Guest's note to Ted Berrigan
Barbara Guest's Note to Ted Berrigan, Courtesy of Fales Library Archive and Hadley Guest

“Dear Ted,” Barbara Guest writes in the note above, “Would they were writ in gold. Affection--though--Barbara.” This was the cover note Guest included with her submission of two poems, “Looking at Flowers Through Tears” and “Sturm Nacht,” for the summer 1964 issue of C: A Journal of Poetry. Guest's poems appeared alongside work by John Ashbery, John Wieners, James Schuyler, Ted Berrigan, Kenward Elmslie, Ron Padgett, and others; she was the lone woman writer in this and the other two issues in which her work appeared: Volume 1, Number 5 (October/November 1963) and Volume 2, Number 11 (Summer 1965). For a more complete catalogue of the Table of Contents for this and other issues of C, I recommend visiting the RealityStudio site, “Index to the Contents of C: A Journal of Poetry.” Below are the images of the manuscript versions of the two poems from Volume 1, Number 9 (summer 1964) as they appear in the Fales Library archive.

C: A journal of poetry

A collage

C cover by Joe Brainard
“C” cover by Joe Brainard, courtesy of Fales Library Avant Garde Archive

C: A Journal of Poetry  first appeared in May of 1963, edited by Ted Berrigan and published by Lorenz Gude. It became an influential showcase for the work of New York School poets and artists — like Berrigan himself, along with Ron Padgett, Joe Brainard, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, Dick Gallup, David Shapiro, and others — it was a predominantly male list, though Barbara Guest and a few others (including Alice B. Toklas!) made appearances. The Fales Library has only a partial collection of the journal; all of the images included below are from that archive. To match the scattershot nature of the image collection, this commentary will be a collage of quotes from friends and fellow poets of Berrigan's in Nice to See You: Homage to Ted Berrigan, edited and introduced by Anne Waldman for Coffee House Press in 1991.  

'A little slice of poetry turf'

Angel Hair archive, continued

for George Schneeman poem AH issue 3

Angel Hair was born in the “backseat of a car [as we were] driving from Bennington to New York,” Warsh says in his introductory essay to the Angel Hair feature in Jacket. Waldman and Warsh were driving with Georges Guy, a French professor at Bennington, and once they'd made the decision to publish Angel Hair, Guy offered them his and Kenneth Koch's translation of Pierre Reverdy's poem, “Fires Smouldering Under Winter.” The Reverdy poem begins the first issue, and the line, “Could it be enough to speak a word in this abyss,” perfectly captures the gesture of launching a literary magazine.

The Fales Library Angel Hair archive

Angel Hair 1 Cover

It feels both hugely restorative and humbling, in our age of digital media, to visit an archive and hold a fifty year-old literary magazine, carefully made and preserved, yet still fleetingly physical, in your hand. Anne Waldman, co-editor (with Lewish Warsh) of the small magazine Angel Hair, describes the significance of that experience in this quote from her introductory essay to the 2002 Angel Hair feature in Jacket: “...so-called ephemera, lovingly and painstakingly produced, have tremendous power. They signify meticulous human attention and intelligence, like the outline of a hand in a Cro-Magnon cave.” This “tremendous power” can be applied specifically to Angel Hair, which published the work of Ted Berrigan, Denise Levertov, Joe Brainard, Michael Brownstein, and Warsh and Waldman themselves, among others, early in their lives as poets.

Bright arrogance #9

Berrigan and Brainard's 'Drunken Boat'

Image from Berrigan and Brainard's Drunken Boat, courtesy estate of Joe Brainard

Ted Berrigan’s “The Drunken Boat” — a mimeograph publication from 1974 with drawings by Joe Brainard — exemplifies a different type of insouciance towards the source text than any we’ve seen thusfar. Berrigan passes off his seemingly straight, utterly conventional translation of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau Ivre” as his own work.  He calls his translation a “homage” to Rimbaud — which, while usually a humble gesture acknowledging influence and gratitude, in this case could be possibly interpreted as a form of naked aggression and erasure.

1968 Ted Berrigan reading as recorded by Robert Creeley

New at PennSound

Some of Robert Creeley's reel-to-reel tapes given to PennSound after the poet's death

Robert Creeley recorded Ted Berrigan’s May 6, 1968 reading given in Buffalo. And Creeley gave the introduction (although, unfortunately, whoever was monitoring the tape recorder while Creeley got up to speak, only caught 27 seconds of the statement). This is the earliest recording of Berrigan currently in the PennSound archive. After his death, Creeley’s many, many recordings have been made available through PennSound. This 1968 Berrigan reading, now newly available on PennSound’s Ted Berrigan page, is one of the most remarkable poetry events Creeley documented.

Ted Berrigan at Bard College, 1982

Recently we found a recording of Ted Berrigan’s reading at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, December 15, 1982: it had not been segmented yet, and naturally we were curious to know which poems he performed on that occasion. Thanks to Anna Zalokostas, Berrigan's PennSound page now includes links to the individual poems, as well as, of course, the whole recording. Here are the segments:

  1. introduction (0:52): MP3
  2. discussing his writing (15:09): MP3
  3. A City Winter (0:13): MP3
  4. A Certain Slant of Sunlight (1:29): MP3
  5. Give Them Back, Who Never Were (4:02): MP3
  6. Now that I (0:34): MP3
  7. Okay. First. ... (1:38): MP3
  8. Every day back & forth (1:07): MP3
  9. Turk (0:56): MP3
    Let No Willful Fate Misunderstand (2:01): MP3
  10. Warrior, Warrior (1:22): MP3
  11. To Sing the Song, That Is Fantastic (1:39): MP3
  12. In Your Fucking Utopias (4:26): MP3
  13. XIII (2:08): MP3
  14. The School Windows Song (3:22): MP3

Ted Berrigan interviewed by Hejinian and Robinson

On "In the American Tree," 1978

August 11, 1978. On the radio program, "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets," Lyn Hejinian and Kit Robinson are our hosts, and the guest is Ted Berrigan. A PennSound recording of the show is available, and here--thanks to the work of Michael Nardone--is part of the transcription:

- - -

HEJINIAN:
We’re going to continue on now with our guest Ted Berrigan. This is "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets."

Ted, you have a sequence of poems?

BERRIGAN:
Yeah, I’ll read three poems from a book, which I just completed, I completed it three or four months ago, it’s called Easter Monday, and it’s fifty poems. And they’re all, most of them are close to the same size, which is about, well, my favorite size, which is about 14 lines. Well, they are sonnets, in fact, but they don’t really work at that too much. Not all of them are. Some are longer. None are shorter, but some are quite long, quite a bit longer, because they just got longer sometimes, and when they did I just let them be longer.

These fifty poems are, fifty was an arbitrary number I decided upon ahead of time based on a theory that if you do two or three works that are fairly similar, and that you liked them, even if you just do one, you do one work and you like it and do another one that’s similar to it, there’s no particular reason to do the next one, a second one, and there’s no particular reason not to do it. But if you feel you have a number then there, you can set yourself this arbitrary number and just decide, well, I’ll do fifty of these. Then you’re sort of clear as to what you’ll be doing for a while. I got this idea from a painter friend of mine.

So, I did fifty of these, and it took me a lot longer than I thought it would. I said that I would do fifty. It’s called Easter Monday because it’s really about second life, life beginning about the age of 40. And since it is personal, I mean it is the second half of one’s life, it’s about being young, a young older person. I was involved in a second marriage, second family, but even if I hadn’t been, it still could have been the same thing.

Consequently, it is like Easter Monday. Easter Friday you die. Easter Sunday you rise again from the dead and that’s really glorious and wonderful, but then Easter Monday you have to get this job and support yourself for the rest of your life.

The poems were all written in two or three or four years from the time I was 38 until last year when I was 42. So they are not all about one’s whole second life, but rather about being aware of coming into that.

When I say they are about something, I mean, I strictly mean “about”. I don’t know what each poem is about particularly. I could study them and tell you what each one is about, but that’s not what I’m willing to do.

Each poem is a very separate poem. They are not like my work The Sonnets where, although every poem can stand on its own, they were sequential and serial in a certain way. There is some repetition of things, but it’s really like fifty separate works which were done knowing I was going to do fifty, and therefore they relate that way. Now, I knew what the themes were, though I didn’t work at them too hard. I just knew what they were.

This is the first three. The first one is called “Chicago Morning.” It’s dedicated to the painter Phil Gustin simply because I was looking at a painting of his while I was writing because it was hanging on the wall over the typewriter, and so I actually used some things in his painting to refer to when I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Doing not enough every day (PoemTalk #5)

Ted Berrigan, '3 Pages'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

A list of Bohemian pleasures. Ted Berrigan’s “3 Pages” is a list poem, surely. He mentions ten things he does every day (including “read lunch poems,” surely a reference to Frank O’Hara’s book of that title) but the PoemTalkers — Randall Couch, Linh Dinh and special guest erica kaufman — had trouble counting them. We got to nine, and pondered. erica then suggested that she “would count ‘NOT ENOUGH’ as being ten.” The last line of the poem. Those American things (heart attack, Congressional medal, second home) that immediately precede the last line…well, for Berrigan, they don’t add up.

So our PoemTalk poem this time is a summing-up poem (Berrigan hinted as such a quality) that sums up by affixing “not enough” to the total. We four liked this sort of life, were turned on by it. Oh, set us down by the waters of Manhattan.

Aside from O’Hara there are further literary references here in this poem about leading the literary life. By the Waters of Manhattan is the novel of another important New Yorker poet, Charles Reznikoff. Al says: “‘NO HELP WANTED’ as a placard turns around the usual, ‘You’re an American boy, get a job.’” Ahabian resistance to progress and accumulation and reason, in a world of Starbucks. We found the rhetoric of folk song here, and we saw indeed deep traces of Moby Dick’s irrational-rational aestheticism. “Hunting for the Whale” is one of the “ten” things a Berrigan poem does for us every single day.

For the purposes of introducing the idea of the list poem to people not used to seriatic ways of modern and contemporary poetry, we agree that this poem is the perfect instance with which to start. “Teachable” in that sense.

Syndicate content