Thursday, November 16, 2000

From the Archives: Ted Berrigan's Sonnets at St. Mark's

This is part of my "From the Archives" series, which consists of texts from e-mails I sent to friends describing my experiences at arts & literary events. I may have taken some small editorial liberties with these texts, and I have included related pictures and hyperlinks, but these are all BBB (Before BillyBlog). Remember, for me these events are enjoyable for two separate reasons: the love of art/poetry, and the mania for collecting. I am who I am. Enjoy!

In a search of an e-mail in 2012, I discovered this bit from November 16, 2000, embedded in an e-mail from 2007. A search of my journals showed I did not paste this e-mail into a physical book.


One of the best readings I've attended. Viking Penguin has just republished
Ted Berrigan's The Sonnets, so this event (on the late poet's birthday)
commemorated that feat.

At first I was worried. I am not very familiar with Berrigan, so when they
announced that the new edition of eighty-plus sonnets would be read in
their entirety, without an intermission, I worried. This is going to be a
long night, I thought. However, as the who's-who in New York poetry list
passed through the book, it was more and more joyful and entertaining.

In order, they read: Dick Gallup (very good), John Ashbery (intense),
Maureen Owen, Larry Fagin, Anselm Hollo (phenomenal), Sandy Berrigan
(Ted's first wife), Johnny Stanton (looking more like a goombah from Bay Ridge
than a poet, he brought the house down), Lorenzo Thomas, Lewis Warsh,
Alice Notley (Ted's 2nd wife and editor of this version of The Sonnets), Ed
Sanders, Edmund Berrigan (Ted's oldest son), Anne Waldman (amazing), Jim
Carroll (surprisingly excellent), Ron Padgett, and finally, David Berrigan
(another son).

One of my favorites to share:

Sonnet LIII

The poem on the page is as massive as
Anne's thighs    belly to hot belly we have laid
Serene beneath feverous folds, flashed cool
in    our    white    heat        hungered        and tasted    and
Gone to the movies        baffling combustions
are everywhere!        like Gertrude Stein at Radcliffe,
Patsy    Padgett    replete    with    teen-age belly!        every-
one's suddenly pregnant and no one is glad!
O wet kisses, the poem upon the page
Can tell you about teeth you've never dreamed
Could bite, nor be such reassurance! Babies are not
Like    Word    Origins and cribbage boards        or dreams
of correspondence!        Fucking is so    very lovely
Who can say no to it later?

Anyway, it was fabulous, and I must admit (Brian, thou confidence in me is
well-founded), the reception/signing went exceptionally well. I aimed
myself at St. Marks with one bag o books. Target: 13 poets, 17 books, a
possible 40 signatures combined. I'll break the bad news first, I only
scored 87.5%, getting all but 5 signatures. Ashbery whined (I do not
exaggerate) when I asked him to sign 4 things (can you imagine if I had
brought 10? He would have wept openly. He was one of my first targets, for
a lack of a better word, and I would have pressed him, but he was limping
and whining and if he'd caused a scene, we could have called the whole
thing off. So, he only blank-signed Brian's copy of Self-Portrait......
The other failing was I caught Ed Sanders on the way out and he said I'd have
to settle for 2 of the 4 items I had for him.

Otherwise, much better than I expected. I was rewarded by several
1) nobody left immediately; 
2) Brian's foresight was right, his copies of
the New York Poets anthology, The St. Mark's Poetry anthology, and Big
Sky Issue #9 impressed the pants off a lot of people, and they enjoyed seeing
these books in hardcover and in such good condition; and finally, 
3) During the reading, I took notes, writing down physical descriptions--not only
what people looked like, but what they wore (often, a reader has glasses
only while reading, they are later removed). When dealing with obscure
poets at a large ensemble reading, this is key. You can thank my notes
for snagging Larry Fagin, Maureen Owen, and Lewis Warsh.

So, I won't give specifics (i.e. placement, inscriptions, etc) but here's
the final tally:
1 signature each in my Best American Poetry anthologies 88, 90,
93, 94, 96 and 97.
3 signatures in my Exquisite Corpse anthology
8 Individual signatures in poet's books (Ashbery-1, Jim Carroll-1,
Anselm Hollo-4, Ron Padgett-2)
3 signatures, including editor Padgett's, in Brian's NY Poets
6 signatures in Brian's Big Sky #9
and the coup de grace, but for John Ashbery's whining,
8 signatures in the St. Mark's anthology (including editor Waldman's)

Brian, please remember me at Channukah this year.

Visual highlight of the event: Once the reading concluded, Jim Carroll
running over to where Ashbery was seated, asking him to sign his copy of
The Sonnets.

All for now.
My friend Brian replied:

by the way, bill, when/if you get a chance I would love to hear a little
more detail on the reading itself. You mentioned that Hollo was
'phenomenal' and others surprisingly good,etc. I'm sure hubert is interested also. How
was Notley? and warsh, thomas & fagin?

To which I responded:

I don't know what more to say about the reading, I parenthesized comments
about various readers, their presence was felt much more than the others.
Lorenzo Thomas, Warsh and Fagin were okay. Fagin had a lisp. Dick Gallup was
mentioned, as was Padgett in a lot of the sonnets, and that was fun,
especially since I was sitting near them and got to see them reacting.
If I don't comment it's because they were unmemorable, but by no means bad,
they just didn't stick out. Hollo has a deep, resonating voice, and he
enunciated very clearly.  Anne Waldman just knows how to throw a poem down
and lets the audience know she enjoys the poems. Ashbery would have been
unremarkable until you remember his stature as a poet, and you appreciate
him more. The 1st Mrs. Berigan was wholly unimpressive, but Notley had some
of the juicier, meatier poems (the one I included was one) and she was
pretty good, too. Not much to say otherwise, other than me chasing down
Hollo because I thought he was leaving, and he assured me he was just going
to the bathroom and he'd be back.