Back in Boston Again by Tom Clark, Ron Padgett, and Ted Berrigan (Telegraph Books, 1972). I found out about this book from Aaron Fischer’s Ted Berrigan: An Annotated Bibliography. It’s a small book, 7x4.5 inches and 48 pages, with a foreword by Aram Saroyan, “Forward,” and 3 short sections, one each by Tom, “Ten Things About the Boston Trip,” Ron, “Back in Cambridge Again,” and Ted, “Ten Things About the Boston Trip: An Aside to Ron & Tom.” The picture of the cover is of Chris Martin’s copy of the book, which I was coveting on his couch in Minneapolis last week. I asked Chris to send a picture of it because the copy I ILLed was rebound in one of those generic hardcovers and they removed the original front and back cover, which is very stupid, because the photograph on the cover is by Rudy Burckhardt, the photographer and filmmaker associated with the New York school who was Edwin Denby’s bff. The cover photo has a kind of Cornell box-like arrangement. Burckhardt made a series of short films with Joseph Cornell in the 50s, some of which are up at UbuWeb. I recently found a copy of Burckhardt's Films, which collects his collaborations with John Ashbery, Jim Carroll, Denby, and many others.
The entry in Fischer’s bibliography gives some background on the press: “According to Victor Bockris, Telegraph Books was a collaborative press that he founded late in 1971 with Andrew Wylie and Aram Saroyan (who indicates that the word "Forward” is not a deliberate misspelling.) Back in Boston Again was the fifth of ten titles published in the course of the eight to ten months that the press was active. At the time, Bockris was working at Folcroft Press, which was located in ‘an obscure suburb of Philadelphia’ and dedicated to reprinting out-of-print literary criticism. He used its facilities to print and bind all the books done by Telegraph.“ The back cover has the Telegraph Books logo, where the "T” looks like a telegraph pole, and the price of the book, which was $1. The back matter lists a few other titles published by Telegraph, including Saroyan’s The Rest and Gerard Malanga’s Poetry on Film. The copy I ILLed is signed by Tom Clark. Chris’s copy is signed by Ron Padgett.
Back in Boston Again is about Tom, Ron, Ted, a few other people going to/meeting up in Boston where Aram was living at the time. You can read the book really fast, just a few minutes. Aram’s foreword is brief and dryly funny as he “introduces” his three friends, basically noting that Ted talks a lot, Tom is smart, and Ron likes to read. Tom’s section is a series of short poems in quatrains that mostly play with using a lot of names in short lines but come off as very bro-y, or maybe like he’s trying to be “cool” about being on this trip with Ron and Ted. I bought his Easter Sunday at The Haunted Bookshop in Iowa City last week and want it to be good and not bro-y.
Ron and Ted’s sections are both made up of short prose pieces. Ron’s read like James Tate narratives, a la Return to the City of White Donkeys, but seem entirely “real,” other than one about a woman who says she has plastic bones in her leg. They’re funny and warmly odd and straightforward in that Padgett way and about how he doesn’t know what a lilac looks like and getting yelled at making Xerox copies and not being able to order a chocolate malt. Here’s one in full where Ron says “zonked,” which is such a Ron thing, and drops a Yeats reference:
Aram had expected only Tom from New York, and in the afternoon, so when Larry, Ted, Tom and I banged on his door at 11 a.m., he came down the stairs, still zonked by sleep, opened the door, could hardly trust his senses when he saw the four of us standing there in the brilliant sunlight, all very tired from not sleeping the night before, all of us excited, all of us talking to him and each other and ourselves at once. The center was not holding. When I break-the-icingly suggested that we try again tomorrow, he invited us in. Someone asked about coffee and Aram said, “Yeah, man, come on in the kitchen.” He led us to a doorway, over which hung a curtain of red burlap. We parted the burlap and stepped in…to the bathroom. We must have stayed there several minutes, no one daring to mention the fact that we weren’t in the kitchen.
Ted’s section is very funny and more wrapped up in the literary side-trips of the trip to Boston, like what book he got for free at Grolier Book Store in Harvard Square (now Grolier Poetry Book Shop), and going through back issues of The Harvard Advocate in the Lamont Library looking for old poems and stories by Frank O'Hara, “one of which, called NOT WITH A BANG, was hilarious. It made me think of Rene.” He means René, part of an early 19th century French novel by Françoise-René Chateaubriand. (Note: an email from Aram Saroyan corrects me on this point, saying that “Rene” is likely René Ricard, which makes much more sense.) Saroyan’s foreword says they took the trip to Boston a “few years” ago, so probably 1969 or '70, only a few years after O'Hara’s death. Ted’s devotion to O'Hara’s work and its influence on him are well documented, but whenever I come across Ted mentioning Frank, especially in less discussed texts, it really shows how deeply Ted revered O'Hara, how sacred and deep that love was. Even in the early 80s, just before his death, Ted was still copying down O'Hara poems and quotes into his journals. In a journal I looked at with Dan at Emory, one page has O'Hara’s “Poem to James Schulyer” written out in full with what looks like a newspaper picture of Frank pasted onto the page. It’s a very deliberate, careful act of love.
Ted made Xeroxes of everything he found of Frank’s in the Harvard Library, which is when Ron had a hard time and got yelled at by the copy guy. Ted’s section also talks about how he got a sunburn, bought a striped polo he wore every day of the trip, and broke the zipper on his pants.
After getting Xerox copies made of the works by Frank, I went to the Men’s Room, when after a brief interval for the greater inconvenience, my zipper broke and my pants were rendered useless. I had no underpants on. I closed my pants as best I could, which was not at all, and sauntered out of the Library, across the street, and into a men’s clothing store, where I purchased a pair of light brown LEE trousers. No one else on the Boston trip mentioned my new trousers, even though my former pants were blue-and-yellow striped. I left them at the store.
The idea of Ted walking around Boston in blue-and-yellow striped pants and a striped polo like a burly Bob Dylan sailor is amazing. Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” could totally have been a source for the title Back in Boston Again. At one point everyone is hanging out listening to The Beatles. In another piece, Ted talks about smoking a joint on a park bench in Cambridge. “I thought about Frank. I was smoking grass.” The last page of the book reads, “I was in that park about a year. Never did feel in a hurry. I was in love.”