Memorial Day by Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman (Poetry Project, 1971). In the last few years Memorial Day has received some attention, first in 2012 when the audio recording from Ted and Anne’s initial reading of the poem at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery on May 5, 1971 was found in Robert Creeley’s audio archives and posted on PennSound. Michael Hennessey has an article, “Recovering ‘Memorial Day’” at Jacket2 about finding that recording: https://jacket2.org/commentary/recovering-memorial-day. What I love most about the article is Anne saying she had “a recording of a recording of a recording” of the poem made by Clark Coolidge. This note, along with the tape showing up in Creeley’s archives, especially after it had been considered lost for so many years, shows how valuable this poem was to a wide variety of poets. And not only the poem itself, but the event of its being read and heard. It is a poem that needs to be heard.
Then last year a video of Ted and Anne reading Memorial Day was posted on the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art channel. I don’t think anyone had any idea it existed. The video description says: “This reading of Waldman and Berrigan’s poem "Memorial Day” was performed as part of a reading series at 98 Greene Street Loft curated by the poet Ted Greenwald. The video was shot by Sandy Hirsch on the only video format that existed at the time, ½ inch open reel video, often referred to as Portapak, and like any video shot in this format from the late 1960s to early 1970s, it is now a very fragile historical document. Digital preservation of this video allows us to now view it and share it with the public for the first time in decades. The Archives thanks the Berrigan estate, Waldman, and Hirsch for their generous permission to share the video on our YouTube channel": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjfWeiTTvnw. I had just found the audio recording of Memorial Day last year like a week before this video surfaced, so my seduction at the hands of the recording immediately became an obsession as I watched the video over and over.
In Ted Berrigan: An Annotated Checklist, Aaron Fischer quotes Anne Waldman about the making of the book:
“Ted & I were scheduled to read several months in advance at The Poetry Project on Memorial Day. Not sure we originally requested this date, but the day fell out that way and we were psyched, having an 'occasion’ to focus on that would also jar some collaborative writing. We were both living that spring in Long Island. I was in Bridgehampton, renting a house with Michael Brownstein Kenneth Koch later bought. Ted and Alice Notley were in Southampton in Larry Rivers’s place there. Ted was always somewhat 'charged’ by the subject matter(s) of death, loss, friendship and the energy & challenge of bumping up against another poet in 'making’ work. Some friends of ours had died by then and we saw the potential piece as an homage, a commemoration, a meditation, and we definitely composed it with the oral reading of it very much in mind. It was kind of a psalm, hymn, litany all blended together that allowed for story (epic that you tell the heroes’ tales) - some decidedly musical form. We weren’t living far away from each other but decided to collaborate through the mail. So we went back and forth at least five times. As the time for our performance drew near it fell on me to 'organize’ the text which were 'clusters’ to my mind out on the Bridgehampton studio floor and letting my eye and ear jump around with scissors and paste. I think we both (after the initial organization) looked it over & Ted went with my arrangement with very minor emendations. The decision on the last part (’& Now the book is closed’) was mutual and we orchestrated it with great intentionality (pretty much alternating lines) for our public performance. The 'closed’ chant originally came from hearing Chris Gallup (Dick & Carol Gallup’s daughter) saying that things were 'closed’ as she drove a street or highway in a car (possibly on Long Island?). Ted had picked up on this and I went with it wholeheartedly. Larry Rivers did a terrific collage work that we translated into a flyer for the event (Nice To See You, p.119). We were in great form, the performance felt exhilarating and powerful. Ted 'borrowed’ the audio tape made that night which he played on numerous occasions. Where is it now?
The cover is by Donna Dennis who I think has a section in Nice To See Youwhere she talks about spending time with Ted and making the cover for Memorial Day. There’s an alternative cover included there, too. The line "Nice To See You” comes from Memorial Day; the words Ted says he’d like on his grave. Frank O'Hara’s death is a huge part of the poem, too, and I’m sure the idea to write a Memorial Day poem had a lot to do with Frank’s “Memorial Day 1950.”
The audio and video recordings are breathtaking, each in their own way. I feel like I’ll never get over this poem, but that’s just as much about the poem as it is the banter at the beginning of each recording, especially the audio. How Ted and Anne joke with one another explaining the poem’s process, Ted putting on his tender bravado, Anne’s wit mixing with his performative masculinity. Then this incredible joke: “Anne and I have been married for twelve years now and we’re living testimonial to how marriage can work,” Ted announces. Everyone laughing. “Go ahead, honey.” “Ok, baby.” And they start reading, exchanging sections of the poem back and forth as they read. “Today / Open: Opening: Opened:” says Anne. And then Ted: “The angels that surround us / die / they kiss death / & they die / they always die.” It’s so clear how much they love each other.
I had been obsessively listening to the 1981 recording of The Sonnets for a while before I became familiar with Memorial Day, but it was really Memorial Daythat bound me to Ted’s work. Last summer Carrie and I wrote a long poem after Ted and Anne’s poem called Labor Day, which is about work in the way that Memorial Day is about death, that was recently published as a double collaborative chapbook, along with Tyler and Layne’s Collected Feelings, by Forklift, Ohio. Writing with the people I love is such a part of that love. Ted and Anne are so good at showing us how our love existed before we did. It’s significant that Memorial Day is included in Ted’s Collected Poems, a rare inclusion of a long collaborative work in a space that is typically restricted to a poet’s singular output. One imagines Ted would have insisted it be included, too.
I ILLed the original stapled mimeo pamphlet, which is the one handed out at the initial reading in 1971, and read it today, Memorial Day, while listening to the recordings of them reading the poem. I sat on this couch and Carrie sat on the other couch. The original is so gorgeous, the lines spread out on the large pages, all the little typos, the shaky, uneven typewritten font, how the ink bled through onto the back of the pages. Maybe the most amazing thing about it is that the back cover is another front cover, as if the book’s beginning and ending had been confused, as if it didn’t end. Ted believed in cycles, and this object bears out that sense of how time collects, returns, and is revoiced. Carrie just said to Jared on the phone, “I’m glad you’re okay. I’m glad you’re okay.” Later we’re going to eat a watermelon we took from a dumpster last night. Our grave is going to say THE PONIES WERE JUST HERE.