“The fatal problem with poetry: poems,” says Ben Lerner (32). What he means by this is that each actually existing poem stands a monument to the unrealizability of the utopian hope that we call “poetry.”
Lerner has some interesting things to say about poetry and its relationship to work, the desire and the worry that writing poetry not be work. Poetry is utopian insofar as it seems to offer an alternative to “getting and spending,” an order of work that is also seamlessly a way of leaning and loafing at one’s ease; hence the defenses. That very utopian possibility also seems a monstrous indifference to the brutalities of being constrained to sell one’s labor in order to live; hence the denunciations.
“I, too, dislike it.” It’s the title of Mia You’s new book from 1913 Press; it’s also the opening gambit in Ben Lerner’s recent book The Hatred of Poetry, a book that takes Moore’s gesture of self-distrust as emblematic of poetry itself, an art “defined for millenia...[by] a rhythm of denunciation and defense” (10).
As we begin the beginning of mourning the loss of Bill Berkson, we naturally look back on Bill’s appearances in Jacket and Jacket2 over the years. In the fifth issue of Jacket (back in 1998) Bill published two poems, one of them “Last Words” (above). In 2006 there was Robert Glück’s interview with Bill. The Berkson “Close Listening” episode was released in 2015. There was James Hart’s review of Portrait and Dream in which the poems are “masterfully composed from a depth, which ... seems to disappear." In December 2012 we published Tom Devaney’s interview with Bill, "The Education of Poetry." Said Bill to Tom: “One friend once pointed to what he called my Roman coin personality and messy mind. Where does the personality leave off and the mind begin? Is there surface and not surface? I think that, yes, both are operating at the same time, all the time.”
Owing to the precise efforts of Hannah Judd, a member of the PennSound staff, Sawako Nakayasu’s PennSound author page now includes topic-by-topic segmentation of her “LA-Lit” session recorded on December 10, 2006. The direct link to the segments is here: