Monday, May 24, 2010

Ted Berrigan, as witty as one can in the face of the Holocaust

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:

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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?

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.

[Reads “Chicago Morning”]

The second one is called “New Town.” New Town is a section of Chicago.

[Reads “New Town”]

“The End.” This is the third one. And these are the first three actually that were written, and it was after writing these three that I then decided I would go on and write 47 more. “The End.” Which is why I call this “The End” because I, you know, I wanted to get the end out of the way right away.

[Reads “The End”]

I’m going to read one more of those. Since my voice started to click in about the middle of the third one.

This is one that came later, maybe about the thirtieth one. This is a made work, and it was made from a master list in a psychology textbook. The title of it is “From A List Of Delusions Of The Insane, What They Are Afraid Of.” And this is a fairly classical sonnet of 14 lines, which works, in fact, in three fours and a two.

[Reads “From A List Of Delusions Of The Insane, What They Are Afraid Of.”

What a list.

Yeah, well, the children are burning. And we are those children. And they are those children too. And they are not insane.

All those things are very true. I mean, evil chemicals are in the air.

And they are poor.

And we are in the control of another power. We have stolen something, namely those lines.

I mean one has to be as witty as one can in the face of the holocaust.