A review of the BOOK

The Selected Poems
of Ted Berrigan

by Ted Berrigan

Central Question: How do you live at high speed, rejoice in love, and skirt death?
Editors: Ted Berrigan’s widow and sons, all poets: Alice Notley, Anselm Berrigan, and Edmund Berrigan; Age of poet at the time of his death: forty-eight; Soft drink featured most prominently in author’s work: Pepsi; Number of activities listed in “10 Things I Do Every Day”: twenty; Other lists included within or as poems: THE TEN GREATEST BOOKS OF ALL TIME; “Things to Do in NewYork City”; “Things to Do in Providence”; “Things to Do on Speed”; “From a List of the Delusions of the Insane, What They Are Afraid Of”; “People Who Change Their Names”; “People Who Died”; Poet Berrigan praised most: Frank O’Hara; Representative lines: “Love, & work, / Were my great happinesses, that other people die the source / Of my great, terrible, & inarticulate one grief. In my time / I grew tall & huge of frame, obviously possessed / Of a disconnected head, I had a perfect heart.”

The classification most frequently ascribed to Ted Berrigan is “second-generation New York School”—as if the defining feature of his poetry is his having rolled into town a little too late to break into the ultimate literary cool-kid clique alongside John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, and Barbara Guest. Berrigan admired and learned from them all, and, reading his poems, it’s easy to identify moments that seem Kochian, O’Haraian, Ashberian—hell, sometimes he steals their lines outright. But he integrates them in a way that suggests polyphony, not slavish imitation, welcoming different voices to create a kind of euphoric, experimental mix tape shot through with personal feeling.

It’s not always clear who the person behind those feelings is, which is to Berrigan’s advantage: it lets him have personality without a psyche—at least the sort of psyche that led his more mainstream contemporaries to write confessions about the dark recesses of their hearts. Rather, he comes off as an extroverted host: in “Tambourine Life,” for example, he channels the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, the folk singer Huddie Ledbetter, the countercultural comedian Paul Krassner, the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, and Tarzan of the Apes.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Megan Pugh

Megan Pugh is a PhD candidate in English at UC Berkeley. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, FLYP, the Oxford American, and Web Conjunctions.

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