"No more copies": Ted Berrigan and Marianne Moore

The names of artists like William Carlos Williams and Juan Gris populate Berrigan's The Sonnets, first published by "C" Press in a 1964 mimeograph edition, while in the echoey background texts by Arthur Rimbaud and Henri Michaux provide a purposefully mistranslated sonic architecture for Ted's poems. The braided devotion to sources that is the surface texture of The Sonnets is one of its most idiosyncratic, seductive characteristics, especially considering the range of works and artists that Berrigan culls sounds from, including his closest friends, literary heroes, musicians, and pulp fiction. However, reading The Sonnets we should be suspicious of any attempt to describe the sequence as the construction of a fixed personal canon. Berrigan is articulating a lineage but the poems never claim the establishment of a tradition. If anything, The Sonnets are marvelously disloyal both to the heritage of their form and to the context of their sources. The poems are about shape and sounds, texture as thought, not the secretive collection of a mastery of sources. These poems let a lot in. Ted's eagerness to send The Sonnets to a poet such as Conrad Aiken in January 1965, for example, gives a sense of his spacious, personal sense of his lineages and audience. As Ron Padgett writes in Ted, Aiken replied: "Thanks for sending me your book, which is fun, I think, but not quite my cup of mescal." Despite its generational flippancy, upon receiving this reply "Ted must have been flattered," Padgett writes.

As Berrigan says about the 1964 edition of The Sonnets, "This mimeograph edition we then mailed to every poet and anyone else too that I thought I would like really to have read it, by virtue of knowing their works." Despite Ted's willingness to distribute his work to poets he admired, I was still surprised to come across a folder in the "C: A Journal of Poetry Archive" in the Fales Library collection at NYU labeled "Correspondence and manuscripts - Marianne Moore." Ted had corresponded with Aiken, for example, and other writers as various as Charles Henri Ford and F.T. Prince, but Marianne Moore seemed like reaching into another world. Below is the first letter I encountered, from Moore to Berrigan, in which she ever-so-politely yet forcefully insists that she receive no further copies of "C."

Courtesy of the Fales Library and Special Collections, NYU

Courtesy of the Fales Library and Special Collections, NYU

While the note is wholly reasonable, it definitely sounds like she's trying to get this "Ted Berrigan" to stop flooding her mailbox with these weird, over-sized mimeograph magazines. Moore's all-caps directive, "NO MORE COPIES," must have been at least a little deflating for Berrigan, even if her request was framed in these objective terms. By June 1964 Berrigan had already published eight issues of "C," filled with such un-Moorian poems as "Sonnet Written in the Time it Took Lauren Owen to Walk 100 Feet" by Padgett and "From the Gobble Gang Poems" by Ed Sanders. One imagines the issues stacking up on Moore's floor, the Warhol cover of issue number 4 of Gerard Malanga and Edwin Denby kissing staring up at her as she finishes final edits on "Granite and Steel." Simultaneous but wildly different New York's are overlapping in this note from Moore and it's great to see this piece of correspondence between two poets who are so avidly linked to the city's cultural imagination. Maybe there are more commonalities between their work than the narratives of 20th century American poetry are willing to provide. It's possible both Moore and Berrigan were "Dress[ing] in basic black / & reading a lovely old man's book: // BY THE WATERS OF THE MANHATTAN," as Ted writes in "Things to Do in New York (City)." Written when she was 76 years old though, Moore's austere note from Brooklyn does seem worlds away from Ted's burgeoning, pre-Poetry Project Lower East Side. 

Even more interesting is the handwritten note by Ted that Moore has returned to him with her own handwritten response. It seems that Moore was one of the poets to whom Ted sent a copy of The Sonnets. He writes: "Dear Miss Moore, Please excuse this further invasion of your privacy, but I'd like very much for you to have this copy of my book. Sincerely, Ted Berrigan." Below this Moore has responded: 

Keep the good throw out the bad, Mr. Berrigan. Page I makes sense to me, and your politeness (up above) -- But just neglect me for a while! And don't waste money on me, stamps or envelopes. Carve it all down. CONSERVE. M. Moore.

Moore seems to have returned the copy of The Sonnets he sent her, as along the left margin she's also written "(Perhaps you can sell the copy)." Her plea for him to be frugal would have likely resonated. The aesthetic prescription not so much. However, they seem to go hand-in-hand. It's possible to read Moore's insistence on a more scrupulous approach to writing and paper as a reaction to the new open field poetics and mimeo culture that was generated out of The New American Poetry, 1945-1960. It's funny though to see Moore describe how she "should hate to have the journal discarded" at the same moment she advises Berrigan to "throw out the bad" in his poems. Writing to Berrigan, trash is on her mind. Whether it's because she'd honestly like to "CONSERVE," as she says--to create more room in the room that she rooms in--or because she'd prefer not to be reading any more about how "high upon the Brooklyn Bridge / An ugly ogre masturbates by ear," we can't be sure. 

Nevertheless, this rare exchange between two irreducible American poets offers a way of imagining our contemporary and historical lineages beyond the established narratives of 20th century aesthetics. Ted likely sent NO MORE COPIES to Marianne Moore, but this little correspondence is a way of seeing Berrigan's generous, intergenerational approach to his sources, however supposedly unlikely. Moore's reply might still have been fresh in his mind when he traveled to the West Coast for the first time to read at the Berkeley Poetry Conference in July 1965, what he jokingly refers to as his "rookie of the year" appearance in American poetry. I'm imagining Ted meeting Robert Duncan for the first time and saying something like, "Marianne Moore politely told me to fuck off. So now I'm here."