Tom Weigel (1948-2017)

Poet Tom Weigel passed away at the age of 69 earlier this month. While I'm not very familiar with Weigel's work, his poems often appear in issues of The WorldMag City, and other New York School-related magazines that are a regular part of my research. Weigel's obituary describes him as an "artist, poet, and playwright [who] lived on NY’s lower east side during the 1970's and 80's and is recognized as a member of the 3rd generation of New York School Poets" and "an active participant at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in the 1970’s and 1980’s." Poets and scholars familiar with the mimeo culture of the 70s and 80s might be more familiar with Weigel as the editor of Tangerine magazine (1981-1986) and publisher of Andrea Doria Books, which published books by Helena Hughes and Michael Scholnick as well as The Full Deck Anthology. Issue number 5 of Tangerine is a memorial issue for Ted Berrigan designed in the style of what would later be published as Nice To See You: An Homage to Ted Berrigan (Coffee House Press, 1991). It's a copy I've always wanted to see but haven't been able to find in the archive. The local New London, CT paper The Day has a full article on Weigel's passing that describes his past and recent life in more detail. 

My connection to Weigel is totally serendipitous. Last February I stopped in at A Book by Its Cover bookstore in Louisville, KY while traveling for a conference. I had corresponded with the owner about any New York School material he might have -- he had recently acquired a small collection of mimeo magazines and books, mostly copies of Mag City and a few issues of The World. I bought a couple pieces from him and before I left he handed me about a dozen loose sheets of paper that had been slipped into the mimeo magazines when he got them, saying he thought I would appreciate having them. In the stack there was a flyer for Mag City 5 with a Weigel poem and copies of letters from Gerard Malanga, but more surprisingly, there were six original typed poems by Weigel from throughout 1979, including at least two poems that Weigel wrote for a workshop with Alice Notley at the Poetry Project. As Alice says about the workshops she led at the Church at that time: "I don't remember my workshops in detail and didn't keep handouts or notes etc. The most extraordinary ones were probably the first and last ones. In the first one were people like Eileen Myles, Bob Holman, Susie Timmons. In the last one I assigned everyone to write and publish a book, which they did. We called ourself, as a press, Unimproved Editions Press, which I used as a rubric to publish on my own Steve Carey's 20 Poems. Between those two were several others, but god knows what we did -- it was always interesting, there were always a lot of weirdos around in the workshops and a sense of the Unprofessional. I mean really crazy people dropped by, all you had to do was show up -- not even enroll. Or pay."

The two poems for Notley's workshop are pictured below, the first written, as Weigel notes, for Notley's assignment to "Write a Creation Myth" and the second written on December 30, 1979 and signed. I've treasured both these poems since rather suddenly and unexpectedly being given them. The bookstore was our last stop before getting on the highway to drive home to Atlanta, and I remember reading the poems in the car and it seeming as if I had been looking for them. More than ephemera, they're rare association pieces that offer a little window into the aesthetic, social, and shared writing spaces of the Poetry Project in the late 70s in the midst of the national downturn in federal funding for arts programs and publishing. In fact, Weigel's poems for Notley's workshop were written after Ronald Reagan had been elected to his first term as President but before he had taken office, a liminal cultural space in a still thickly experimental, ever-changing Lower East Side. Of the two poems, I'm partial to "A Creation Myth," which for me is really lovely from "As a tribe spits back righteous & variable" all the way down. The last stanza is just great. While the second poem doesn't note what Notley's assignment was, it could have been to write a poem that begins and ends with overheard speech. If so, those are great lines. If you look closely you'll notice that both poems included spots where Weigel has used wite-out to correct typos -- on "Creation's" in the first poem and "serious" in the second. Archives are continually revealing the artist's hand, and its great to see the details of artifacts like these that hold so much wayward, living, personal energy.

RIP Tom Weigel: "When you wake / You'll be sand, yet whole"

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"It's not the way you're taught": from an Interview with Alice Notley


My interview with Alice Notley, published on the occasion of the release of the vinyl LP Live in Seattle (Fonograf Editions), was recently published by the Poetry Society of America and can be read here. The interview is an edited selection from an hour and a half phone conversation between Atlanta and Paris that took place on September 16, 2017. Below are a few portions of our conversation that didn't make into the final piece. These excerpts are unedited and show more of the range of our conversation, including Notley's lifelong visual art practice, links to Chicago (where her and Berrigan lived in the early 1970s), relationship with artist George Schneeman, and what her collected poems might look like. Though not included in the published interview, these pieces are equally irreducible.


Nick Sturm: I spend a lot of time with your early work because the things that it does are so various from the things that your work has done since The Descent of Alette. And spending time with that work has changed the way I think about these different processes of writing. Whether it’s “Endless Day,” “September’s Book,” “Jack Would Speak Through the Imperfect Medium of Alice” – they’re so funny. Your work has always been funny. Like I think of the “Postcard” poem in Waltzing Matilda that begins “Dear Fuckface” and ends “Love Bubbles” that’s so blasphemous and fun and pleasurable. What I'm asking is: I wonder if you’ve ever had an experience like this--creating effects in your poems--where it doesn’t feel as if you’re writing but more like you’re arranging?

Alice Notley: I’m not that kind of writer. Other people are, but no, I write. I write and it comes out of me. I don’t arrange things. I don’t take things from different places and stitch them together or anything like that. Ted sometimes spoke as if he did that. But I’ve never done it. I have a voice coming into me and then out of me. A lot of time it’s somebody else’s voice. Like in the “Postcard” poem they’re all my voices but in each one I’m saying well I’m this person writing to this, although it’s all the same person. Then at the end the last one is “Dear Francis” and its signed Alice and at that point I have arrived at my voice. I was asked to discuss this in a class taught by Tom Devaney last November and then he asked me if Francis was Francis Waldman, Anne’s mother, and I said, “No, it’s Frank O’Hara!” and he started crying. [laughs] I said, “You’re crying!” and he didn’t know what to say.


Nick: These are little tangential things, but asking you about some important things that you’ve done that haven’t often been talked about. For example, your writing’s relationship to painting, your self-education in painting, going to museums, the incredible amount of visual work that you’ve made – collages, watercolors, and fans – and I was really excited to find out that you did a show at MoMA PS1 in 1980. It seemed as if you wrote the description of the show itself. You said something like, “It’s said there’s a relationship between her visual work and her poems. There is.” [Alice laughs] Which made me think it was absolutely written by you. I wonder about all of the work you’ve done making these objects.

Alice: I’m making them right now. I’m actually sitting talking to you at a table surrounded by the ones I’m in process with right now. I never stop making them but sometimes there are lapses because I haven’t finished one. But I’m always doing it. But I’ve interrupted your question.

Nick: I’m not sure there’s a question other than to let you talk about it.

Alice: My relationship to art. I’ve been very close friends with some artists, that started at the beginning as soon as I met Ted, then I met his friends. I got tremendously interested in the works that Joe Brainard and George Schneeman were doing. All of that whole art world opened up to me. But I had been interested in painting when I was in high school in Needles. I didn’t paint but I studied art history in a way. My mother ordered from the outside world a monthly book, like a set of lectures by John Canaday, that would come with these illustrations and prints and then I would look at them and read the description and try to figure out what he was talking and why he was talking about ti this way and I got very interested. When I met Ted everybody cut and pasted so I instantly started doing it and I never stopped. He and I would do it together. He would do it his way off in his corner and I would do it over in my corner. The way he did it was different from the way anyone else did it, and George Schneeman was totally fascinated by the way Ted worked with him when they collaborated. But I didn’t want to collaborate. I only wanted to collaborate with myself and that was my evil secret and it’s always been my evil secret that I that don’t want to do anything with anybody else. But I was so interested in George’s process and everybody said that he wouldn’t talk about his art. So I determined to make him talk about his art and went to see him all the time for that interview that’s also in Brilliant Corners.

Nick: And in Waltzing Matilda.

Alice: I went to ask him questions day after day and he became addicted to having me ask him questions, that was why he was willing to talk to me finally, I mean he just loved it. Then I wrote the essay kind of off-hand. Edwin [Denby] had really, really liked all of that, too. They really loved it that I had made George talk. You know, I was interested in all the people I refer to in the Art Institute essay, all of that, all those works. I was really torn up by postpartum depression and all that really healed and strengthened me, going out to the Art Institute and looking at the paintings then writing off them. All of the essays from that time are written out of a slight hysteria. They’re all written out of this desperation I felt at being depressed in that particular way. And I was always trying to declare myself well through the process of looking at this art and reading these books and writing these things, and I don’t know if that makes sense, but at a certain point I was healed. I was healed. I didn’t write those anymore and I didn’t have that tone anymore. I lost that particular tone but I was glad to because I felt better.


Alice: Poets have their own way of being critical and scholarly but it’s not the way you’re taught. And it can’t be systematized. For poets, it comes largely out of talking to each other, I think, and a lot of it happens when you’re young. You figure things out with your peers in late night drunken conversations and those are really important.


Nick: I wonder what it would look like to collect all of your works together. It would be this 2000-page collected poems. It’d be a suitcase-size book.

Alice: It’d be like a nineteenth century person, like Hugo or Charles Dickens or somebody.

"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."

Crystal Set #12: No Hassles: An Unhinged Book in Parts by Anne Waldman (Kulchur Foundation, 1971)

No Hassles: An Unhinged Book in Parts by Anne Waldman (Kulchur Foundation, 1971). Perfect bound, 151 pages, and dedicated to Edwin Denby, No Hassles is a fun, enigmatic book from early in Waldman's career that seems to be rarely mentioned in the limited scholarship on Waldman's work. Joanne Kyger quotes from it repeatedly in a 2005 essay "Anne Waldman: The Early Years... 1965–1970" in Jacket. Kyger writes: "33 St. Mark’s Place became familiar over the next year after poetry readings, on visits. Lots of people. Lots of funny outrageous behavior. Why are Ted Berrigan and Carol Gallup staying so long in the bathroom? I was still watching 30 minutes later, but everyone else had forgotten." And Kyger again, to set the stage for No Hassles: "In 1970 when Anne is 25, Ted Berrigan writes of her poetry (on the dust jacket of Baby Breakdown) as “an open circle with her many selves at or near the center, and those selves deal honestly and openly and passionately with what is happening to her, all of us, right now. That’s what Anne Waldman’s poetry is. NOW. Technically, she is impeccable. If her poems are clumsy in places, those are clumsy places. She knows what she is doing.... This book is an ordinary miracle.”

Cover by Brigid Polk.

Cover by Brigid Polk.

No Hassles is a textual performance of what Ted calls Anne's "many selves," filled with art work by Joe Brainard, Donna Dennis, and George Schneeman, photographs, and collaborative pieces with Berrigan, Michael Brownstein, Ron Padgett, Bill Berkson, Lewis Warsh, Kenward Elmslie, and others to present a book that, rather than a typical poetry collection, is slightly "unhinged" from our expectations about how poems might be presented in a way that reflect and embody the social and aesthetic intimacy the poet has with her friends, many of whom are artists. Described on the title page as "poems, stories, heartaches, collaborations, comics & photographs," the book acts as an early experiential encyclopedia of New York School aesthetics. It's really just very fun to read and bounce around in. The title is doing the double work of sloughing off traditional literary expectations, with the cover image by Brainard of Waldman writing the book's title illustrating the straightforward, on-the-spot spontaneity and intimacy of her aesthetic, while also embodying a generational state of mind in the immediate post-60s Lower East Side, like, get off my back, we're living no hassles. It's also just a great little strange sound -- "no hassles." There's a huge American imagination in the book as Waldman is building this set of communities together in herself and in her work, linking the East and West coast poetry scenes, being with and in the work of all these artists and poets, driving around the country, running the Poetry Project. It's about being "in touch" in all the ways that resonates. The book kind of reminds me of Notley's Watlzing Matilda, if only because it's a longer book that includes this range of forms (poems and prose) and a long interview Alice did with George Schneeman, which is incredible. It's an irreducible, idiosyncratic book that way. It doesn't let you get all the way around it. You go through it and let it break all over. Some of my favorite poems in the book are "Bernadette," which is just the one word "cigarette," and the poem "Answer to Them," dedicated to Peter Schjeldahl that reads "Fuck all those guys in power! / We'll take care of business / with a little help from Anonymous." I also love the ending of the poem "Movie (But You'd Better Not Cry)": "Now more than ever it seems necessary to embrace them // & take into consideration / the full meaning of Jim."

"BOAT RIDES from photo of author by Michael Brownstein taken Oct. 1969 in Chicago," from "Some Credit Notes."

"BOAT RIDES from photo of author by Michael Brownstein taken Oct. 1969 in Chicago," from "Some Credit Notes."

Anne was just here in Atlanta for two days for the opening of an exhibit at Emory's Rose Library, "The Dream Machine: The Beat Generation and the Counterculture, 1940-1975." There's this main stereotypical narrative that Anne is somehow "the last living Beat" because of all her work with Ginsberg founding and running the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa, because of the performative nature of her work, the way she trances the page into song in the tradition of Ginsberg, and her long path into Buddhism. There are definitely later books where a "Beat" thing is coming in and being remade for Anne's purposes, which are not Kerouac's or Corso's purposes, for example. But in early works like No Hassles Anne is completely a New York School poet, second generation or whatever, having a lot of very smart fun. Talking with her this past week about this book she told me that Lita Hornick, the publisher of Kulchur, showed up at the release party for No Hassles with all the copies of the book actually unbound, in these piles, because she had taken the subtitle "an unhinged book in parts" literally. "You can imagine," she said, "I was terrified." Nevertheless, the book was eventually printed and actually bound, and Anne went on to do a lot of amazing things, which she's still doing. Anne is irreducible and a very tender, funny person. See "BOAT RIDES" to the right for evidence. Below are a series of pages from No Hassles that give a sense of how special and varied the book is, including a comic with Brainard that, I believe, doesn't appear anywhere other than this book.

"Spirit-Graph" from "Weekend" by Waldman, Warsh, Berkson, Elmslie, and Brainard.

"Spirit-Graph" from "Weekend" by Waldman, Warsh, Berkson, Elmslie, and Brainard.

Left: "OUT TO LUNCH drawing one of those fold-over-pass-to-the-next guys in 4 parts done with Ted Berrigan & Lewis Warsh & ?, sometime 1967." Right: NARCOLEPSY my first collaboration with Ted written at 33 St. Marks Place, NYC Fall 1967."

Left: "OUT TO LUNCH drawing one of those fold-over-pass-to-the-next guys in 4 parts done with Ted Berrigan & Lewis Warsh & ?, sometime 1967." Right: NARCOLEPSY my first collaboration with Ted written at 33 St. Marks Place, NYC Fall 1967."

Page 1: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 1: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 2-3: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 2-3: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 4-5: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 4-5: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 6-7: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 6-7: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

When you see me on the street you yell "Jesus Christ!": Ted Berrigan and The Fugs

Daniel Kane's new book, "Do You Have a Band?": Poetry and Punk Rock in New York City (Columbia University Press, 2017), investigates a lineage of punk icons like Richard Hell and Patti Smith who inherited, appropriated, and furiously (dis)assembled their aesthetics out of and in unison with the poets and poetic lineages associated with New York City's Lower East Side. At the same time, Kane suggests, writers like Eileen Myles and Dennis Cooper were modeling their divergent styles, personas, and little magazines on their punk peers and predecessors. Kane's portrait of the reciprocity and defiance between innovative poetries and genre-bending musicians comes out of a deep, generous archival dive that includes the author's own interviews with many of the artists that populate the book's narratives. For example, I was totally delighted to get this story from Bill Berkson about going to shows at the Filmore, the iconic short-lived venue on Second Avenue (see Ada Calhoun's St. Marks is Dead for more Fillmore tales), which arranges surprising trinities like Ted Berrigan, Miles Davis, and Neil Young in one irreducible space:

I went to many shows at the Fillmore with Ted Berrigan, Michael Brownstein, Jim Carroll and others. The most amazing was a double bill featuring Neil Young and Miles Davis -- more properly, Miles Davis with his Bitches Brew contingent opening for Neil Young and Crazy Horse! [Rock 'n' roll music...] was in the room, the turntable, everywhere all the time. Lines from songs got into the poems, and the poems, like our conversations, learned to ride on this stream of continuous music.

In the play and energy of all this "continuous music," I love seeing Kane point to connections between specific bands and poets, noting how lines from the Velvet Underground's "I'm Beginning to See the Light" made their way into Berrigan's and Anne Waldman's poem "Memorial Day," "a text that owed as much to Charles Olson's characterization of the manuscript page as a field on which words could dance wildly as it did to Lou Reed and his friends." Rather than discuss a poetics of sociability in terms of "coterie" poetics, Kane describes the patterns of devotion between New York School poets and their various sources as wayward, flexible, and inclusive. The book questions our romanticized associations betweens poetry and music, and between musicians and poets, while recognizing how a sound or a lyric can float into a poem as a way to explode what language (or noise) is available. I appreciate Kane's thinking about "bad" writing and "minor art," too. Kane's description of work that is easily dismissed, and his explanation of why he's drawn to supposedly easily reducible work, resonates with the relationship I have with some of Berrigan's poems. Here's Kane in an interview with Andy Fitch about "Do You Have a Band?":

from  The Fugs  album cover, with liner notes by Allen Ginsberg that reference a lineage of counterculture figures for the author of "Howl": Burroughs, Whitman, Dylan, and others.

from The Fugs album cover, with liner notes by Allen Ginsberg that reference a lineage of counterculture figures for the author of "Howl": Burroughs, Whitman, Dylan, and others.

I’m really drawn to work that many people would understandably dismiss as fairly inconsequential. A text that always comes up for me when thinking about my love for “fun” poetry is a little Ted Berrigan one-liner titled “Kinks.” The entire poem is as follows: “I am kinks.” I also think back to work like Aram Saroyan’s one-word blasts, or even maybe his relatively epic works, such as an untitled poem which reads in its entirety “Ron Padgett / would approve / this idea.” These texts seem to me to represent an attitude towards poetry in which loose conversation or even a simple happy grunt is an idealized primary response. I’m not saying here that reading such works through a rigorous intellectual framework is somehow “bad,” by the way. I’m all for both/and.

One of the bands that appears throughout Kane's book is The Fugs, the notoriously noisy, unevenly "bad" proto-punk band led by poet Ed Sanders, the editor of the infamous mimeo magazine Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts. Kane's narratives on Sanders's band reminded me that last year I bought a vinyl reprint of the second Fugs album, The Fugs, released in 1966, which includes the B-side track "Doin' All Right" written by Ted Berrigan with Lee Crabtree and Vinny Leary. I went looking for the album because of the song by Berrigan and, miraculously, a local record store had a copy for sale. The live version of the song, which you can listen to in the video below, begins with Sanders announcing "Ladies and gentleman, it gives The Fugs great pleasure, when the author himself is in the audience, to present tonight for almost its world premiere, the new Fug hit at the [inaudible], by the honorable Ted Berrigan..."Doin' All Right"!" At the end of the song Sanders yells "Author, author, author!" cajoling the audience into recognizing Berrigan who, surrounded by a clapping, hooting crowd announces, "That's the greatest song I've ever heard." Laughter fills the room. It's an incredible moment to have on tape.

The Fugs sound like a Captain Beefheart-Rolling Stones-DEVO mash-up, or Tom Waits giving an SDS speech to The Muppets, or Donovan yelling through wet noodles. The sonic dissonance between tracks, like the sound effects heavy, circus-y anti-war anthem "Kill for Peace" followed by the warm lullaby-like "Morning Morning," is smoothed over by both songs' parodic lyrics and raucous performative buffoonery. "Morning Morning" might sound like a sunny, introspective love song but Tuli Kupferberg's lyrics carry all the Fuck You-style sarcasm and absurdity of Sanders's "Total Assault on the Culture"-approach to music: "Moon shine moon shine / Moon shine drugs the hills with grace / And the secret of the shining / Seeks to break my simple face." It's like a cartoon Cat Stevens. 

Berrigan picks up the Total Assault in "Doin' All Right," an upbeat bearded-hipster-about-town narrative where "I'm not ever gonna go to Vietnam / I'd prefer to stay right here and screw your mom." Rather than the heavy existential-political crisis in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Almost Cut My Hair," released six years later in 1970, where the narrator feels "like letting my freak flag fly / And I feel like I owe it, to someone," the narrator's beard in "Doin' All Right" is a sign of silly apathy and masculine sexual freedom, just "the hairs grownin' around my nose and throat" that make everyone else cry out in anger and disgust: "When you see me on the street you yell "Jesus Christ!" / But I'm getting mine / I'm doin' all right." The joke continues with a reference to a well-known but oddly worded Gillette razor slogan, "How are you fixed for blades?" which was traditionally sung by a cartoon parrot in Gillette commercials throughout the 1950s:

When I walk down the street
The people that I meet
Hold their noses and say
"How are you fixed for blades?"
But I just walk on by
I don't even hear 'em
Because I'm high

Even though these songs are thoroughly parodic and tongue-in-cheek, lyrics like "The only gook an / American can trust / Is a gook that's got / His yellow head bust" in "Kill for Peace" and "And I'm getting almost as much pussy as the spades" in "Doin' All Right" can and should be read as examples of the willingness of mid-1960s white counterculture to perpetuate racist stereotypes and employ racist language. Even if these satirical lyrics are being used to critique traditional American mores and the racist otherings that prop up those values, The Fugs are tossing out these derogatory terms to a mostly white youth audience that sees itself in opposition to a mostly white conventional audience. While Kane's book expertly explores how protest, literature, an expanding feminist ethos, and the intergenerational, interdisciplinary aesthetics of poets and musicians fostered the birth of punk culture on the Lower East Side, the book does not chart how race or racism influenced or underlined the discourses and aesthetic transformations that defined punk.

David Berrigan, Ted's son with Sandy Berrigan, once wrote a short, memorable piece called "Ted's Music" that mentions "Doin' All Right" and gives an amazing portrait of Berrigan's relationship with the music of his generation. I'll close this post by quoting the last half of David Berrigan's piece, from 2012:

This year I was in Stockholm, which has a lot of vintage vinyl shops, I had a mission to find a copy of the Fugs eponymous album because it includes the track “Doin Allright” [sic] that Ted wrote [...]. I already had a copy, but I wanted two so both my sons could have one. Maybe they will have record players someday. Jim Carroll also based a song “People who Died” on one of dad’s poem of the same name. You can find both versions online. I remember, briefly, wishing he could write a few popular songs and make a lot of money.
In 1977 I played him “Hey There Little Insect" by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. I don’t think he was impressed, but it presaged my entomological career. I think dad loved Dylan the most, our penultimate visit was at my graduation from Reed College in Portland OR in 1983, I lived with friends in a big old house. They had a good stereo and a lot of records. I remember dad lying on the floor in front of the records singing along to "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" and scoping out the collection.
He used to say that poets had to lift their voices up in song.

"It was wonderful": Ted Berrigan's Screen Shot

In the far corners of the art-minded, archival internet, impossible things tend to emerge. Here is a recording of an interview with Andy Warhol at the Factory in 1965 which happens to include a slice of conversation between the interviewer, Gerard Malanga, and Ted Berrigan.

This recording was made the day that Warhol did a screen test of Berrigan, a still of which appears on the back cover of Nice To See You. Some googling led me to this after reading Reva Wolf’s Andy Warhol, Poetry, and Gossip in the 1960s where she quotes a transcript of the interview. I’m writing an essay about Berrigan’s novel Clear the Range, part of which is about Berrigan’s relationship to Warhol and Pop Art, so hearing them talking together here is amazing. I’d love to see the actual screen test, too. Warhol also did screen tests of Ashbery and Ginsberg. A lot of this is a combination of background noise, music playing,  whitenoise, phone calls about parties and money, inaudible voices, an on-and-off interview, and normal chatter in keeping with Factory-era audio recordings. The entire thing is pretty incredible. The description says Brainard is here but I can’t pick out his voice.

“Andy Warhol interviewed by teenage David Ehrenstein at the Factory on March 3, 1965. It’s a real trip. Special appearances by, Gerard Malanga, Ted Berrigan, Joe Brainard, a Rolling Stones LP, calls from Bob Brown and Nancy Fish.”

The above description is from who reblogged it from Dennis Cooper who originally posted it on his blog in 2007 via Ehrenstein.

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 9.26.39 AM.png

An excerpt starting at 9:17:

Ehrenstein: What about Screen Test?

Malanga: Uhhh, no comment.

Ehrenstein: No comment. Could we ask him about the movie?

Malanga: Oh yeah. (in background) Ted Berrigan, what about the movie you just did?

Berrigan: What about it? (laughter)

Ehrenstein: Did you like what you did?

Berrigan: Uh sure, it was wonderful.

Ehrenstein: You said tears were coming into your eyes.

Berrigan: I was looking at the light, to see what it looked like, and (mic cuts out) …It was all really wonderful. I loved myself every second. (laughs) I looked at the camera and it looked like, the light made it look like a big blue flower and so I looked at it each time until the flower effect wore off and then I looked at the light for a few more minutes until it came on again.


“All this pain is necessary”: Amiri Baraka’s SOS: Poems 1961-2013

My review of SOS: Poems, 1961-2013 can be read in full at ArtsATL.

"In mostly white classrooms at many universities, Amiri Baraka’s poems are assigned in brief, dramatic portions. This, at least, was my experience. A student might read “Black Art,” a poem that agitates easy classroom conversations about what a poem can say, want and do with its vivid amplification of a black united front in the wake of the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The poems in Baraka’s first collection, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (1961), present a teachable narrative of dissatisfaction and resistance to the white hegemony of the American poetry scene, whether Beat, Black Mountain, Bay Area or New York School. A teacher might explain that Baraka left his white, Jewish wife and moved to Harlem in 1965, abandoning the name LeRoi Jones and organizing the Black Arts Repertory Theatre School. The conversation might end by mentioning that Baraka’s term as Poet Laureate of New Jersey was cut short after his poem about 9/11, “Somebody Blew Up America,” was accused of being anti-Semitic. For the most part, these are the institutionally sanctioned touchstones of Baraka’s influence on American poetry."


My essay on Ted Berrigan's short-lived yet prolific work as an art critic for ARTnews can be read in full at Fanzine, where it was published as "Part 1" and "Part 2." 

From Part 1:

"In the early-mid 60’s, Berrigan was saturated in the aesthetic accelerant of the hybridizing New York art scene, regularly attending museums, plays, and operas, watching French New Wave films, avidly reading about the modernist avant-gardes, and collaborating with other poets and painters. He was a casual visitor at The Factory and Warhol even gifted him a Brillo Box that, as Ron Padgett describes, Berrigan “personalized” into a clustered, stained coffee table in much the same way he “personalized” lines from other poets into his own works, such as The Sonnets. It was a time of floating silver foil, cut-ups, and Blonde on Blonde and Berrigan stood giddily and seriously in the middle of it. In 1964, looking back at his first few years in New York, Berrigan writes “Joe [Brainard] and I used to go almost every day to art galleries and museums and drench ourselves in paintings, starting up at 86th street and Madison, and hitting just about every gallery from there to the [M]useum of Modern Art where we would sit in the garden and have coffee delirious with all that art and the way even the telephone poles and drugstores had turned into paintings after a few galleries.” These are “the Pollock streets” of The Sonnets, an aesthetic stage where Berrigan’s keen associational eye was able to trace a generative compendium of artistic influences and historical networks, such as when he claimed Jean Dubuffet “is Paul Klee as King Kong” after seeing a show of Dubuffet’s at MoMA. When Berrigan started writing for ARTnews in March 1965, it was part of his continued, fluid engagement with an intimate, generative community of artists."

From Part 2:

"In his 1966 article, Berrigan calls this ability of Grooms his “Red Power.” Continuing the earlier association with the comics, he writes,

I like Red’s paintings even better than the funnies, mostly because they are so much richer. There is more detail, less story, more mystery and less art as art. Because his paintings are not so neat, and because the people and things (tables, dogs, window-curtains, playing cards, hands) seem so important simply because they exist, Red’s paintings sometimes seem very scary. The domestic scenes he has painted, such as Loft on 26th Street, the cut-out painting of 1966, are much more haunting than they are delightful, despite their bright Pop colors and the near-comic air of domesticity they strike. In fact, there is something awful about the autonomy of each person and object pictured, as if someone or everything could very well go totally berserk at any instant and it would be just as logical as not.

The combination of a hectic, disorienting surface paired with a colloquial vision of representational depth was one of Berrigan’s own poetic modes. Grooms’s ability to charge a piece with intimacy, humor, and pathos, all the while approaching and appropriating the work’s own aesthetic influences with a witty, devotional self-reflexivity, seems to have made him one of Berrigan’s favorite artists at the time. That he describes his appreciation of Grooms’s paintings in narrative terms–“more detail, less story, more mystery and less art as art”–speaks to a turn in Berrigan’s writing signaled by the more immediately domestic, autobiographical poems that would appear in Many Happy Returns. This idiosyncratic approach to representing the personal runs through each of the three artists Berrigan wrote about in his feature articles, and it is worth noting how conscientious and passionate Berrigan is about portraits and paintings full of people. His poems have exactly that intricately layered devotion to the people in his own life, and like these artists, such representations were always about the poem rather than about the person, a valuing that never resulted in loss of feeling. The presence of people, of friends, was an occasion for making art."

Alex Katz, "Ted Berrigan," 1967

Alex Katz, "Ted Berrigan," 1967

CRYSTAL SET #11: Hymns of St. Bridget by Frank O'Hara and Bill Berkson (Adventures in Poetry, 1974)

Hymns of St. Bridget by Frank O'Hara and Bill Berkson (Adventures in Poetry, 1974). Stapled with a cover by Larry Rivers, the book is 20 pages long and includes 9 poems written together by O'Hara and Berkson, as the back matter says, “between 1960 and 1962, mostly in New York. Some of them appeared in Evergreen Review and Chicago.” Every poem’s title has something to do with Saint Bridget, like “St. Bridget’s Hymn to William de Kooning” and “In the Summer House (With St. Bridget).” The idea for the collaboration started when Berkson and O'Hara were walking down First Avenue and noticed the bent steeple of St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church. Berkson then wrote a poem in imitation of O'Hara about the steeple, “Hymn to St. Bridget’s Steeple,” which became the first poem in the book. Berkson showed the poem to O'Hara, who responded by suggesting they write a series of St. Bridget poems together. The “limp and ridiculous” steeple, as Berkson describes it, also appears in O'Hara’s well-known poem “Steps,” written on October 18, 1960, the same time he was writing these poems with Berkson: “How funny you are today New York / like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime / and St. Bridget’s steeple leaning a little to the left.”

Wikipedia tells me a lot of good things about Saint Bridget, including that “as a child, she once gave away her mother’s entire store of butter. The butter was then replenished in answer to Brigit’s prayers,” but most importantly for Berkson and O'Hara, Saint Bridget/Brigit was “a woman of poetry, and poets worshipped her, for her sway was very great and very noble.” (This is a terrific use of “sway.”) Also, Bríg, the Celtic version of Bridget, invented keening, a combination weeping and singing, hence the “hymns.”


These poems map out the physical, emotional, and social space of Manhattan for the two poets, as Berkson signals in the first lines by locating St. Bridget’s on “ninth street,” but then quickly turning to “it doesn’t matter, you are my dream / of an actual winter.” The second poem, “St. Bridget’s Neighborhood,” is maybe the best poem in the book, and is written in couplets with small caesuras separating phrases. Instead of describing the poem I’ll just quote two amazing passages. First these lines from about halfway through the poem: “I have a headache / I want to have heartache   (to begin:) // My heart is corresponding oddly and with odd things and I / sometimes wonder if the future holds nothing // but the Surgical-Dental Supply Co. and Disney / the light is getting dim and a softness is settling // over the aluminum appliances and the fire escapes / and a fresh green paint over my royal flush heart.” And these lines, which end the poem: “I rather like these minor attentions when I / am not alone and it is nice for me when you are not alone // An orchestra is never alone   St. Bridget is never alone / although she must feel lonely when we ask her such questions // Is the nest an animal too?”

I was also super stoked that yogurt shows up here, in “Song Heard Around St. Bridget’s,” because O'Hara has some great poems with yogurt in them and it’s important to keep track of those. “When you’re in love the whole world’s Polish / and your heart’s in a gold stripped frame / you only eat cabbage and yogurt / and when you sign you don’t sign your own name.” Yogurt actually comes up again in this poem but I’m not going to overdo it and quote more yogurt lines.

Here are more great lines from other poems: “no more fuzzy fatigue / though we’re still asleep / walking through the gardens of Sceaux / to the frozen dahlia exhibit / lying there like income tax forms” (from “St. Bridget in the Metro”)

“you are attractive and poor   you are a horse” (from “St. Bridget’s Efficacy”)

“you are not unlike a blue and pink and bong / de Kooning” and “bravo bravo bravo bravo as usual / because I was not logical I was crying and I flushed / the tears down the drain back to the salt like on / the wharf the pier the pier-ess   Two becomes one often / enough to keep the floodgates closed against art / or any abstraction which might make us one / instead of two singular steeples necessarily / together” (from “St. Bridget’s Hymn to William de Kooning”) Obviously here Berkson and O'Hara are describing the act of collaborating that incorporates gender in a really amazing way.

The last poem in the book, “St. Bridget’s Hymn to Philip Guston,” has an epigraph from Gertrude Stein, “Why do you beat Sunday” (can’t find what book it’s from) and is pretty long, 6 pages, and plays with separated columns of lines that can’t be read be horizontally, so it’s like the two columns have to be read by two voices simultaneously a la Ashbery’s “Litany.” The de Kooning and Guston poems are both longer and look, on the page, like O'Hara’s poems from the time with the long lines and spacing of poems like “Ave Maria” and “Having a Coke with You.” The word “eagle-nutted” also appears in this poem.

“Us Looking Up to St. Bridget” includes the lines “St. Bridget may not protect you but she / does keep you alive if that’s your idea of a good time.” This line stayed with Berkson for a long time, maybe in a way tied to O'Hara’s death, and later became the title of the collaborative correspondence book assembled between him and Bernadette Mayer, What’s Your Idea of a Good Time? In a letter to Bernadette in response to the question “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” Bill writes, “I was incredibly mean to Frank O'Hara one time: I shouted at him for liking the sound of his own voice too much. I think now it was out of envy. It’s one of the few things, maybe the only one, I feel a physical hellfire damnation about, partly because he was so vulnerable to the attack, he didn’t retaliate.” Like so many of the other New York school collabs, Hymns of St. Bridget is an incredible record of a friendship of thinking and loving together, a difficult, expansive necessity.

“I am the cushion of your soul your ambition your beauty

and I am glad and that is my hymnal next to the Bowery

that is my bower next to your beautiful Self that’s IT”

CRYSTAL SET #10: Bolinas Journal by Joe Brainard (Big Sky, 1971)

Bolinas Journal by Joe Brainard (Big Sky, 1971). Printed in a run of 300 copies, the book is 45 pages of undated journalistic entries with drawings throughout, including excerpts of a comic made will Bill Berkson with a Pop-Eye dick and Nancy vagina, versions of posters for readings given during his month in northern California, drawings of friends (a great one of Berkson), a map of Bolinas, a portrait of Joe by Philip Whalen (with “Joe knits up a careful tennis shoe white thread” written underneath), a little poem written by Ted in his hand, and handwritten introductions for Joanne Kyger and Bobbie Creeley by Joe for a reading in San Francisco (the poems read by Bobbie were her Fifteen Poems, republished by Belladonna* in 2012). The cover is a reproduction of the classic black and white Mead notebooks. It was the first book published by Berkson’s Big Sky Books.

Brainard wrote Bolinas Journal from May-July 1971 while on an extended visit to Bolinas, CA from NYC to spend time with friends, including Bill Berkson, Lewis Warsh, Philip Whalen, Joanne Kyger, Robert Creeley, Bobbie Creeley (now Bobbie Hawkins), Diane di Prima, Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley (Ted and Alice visited around the same time as Joe), Tom Clark, Lewis MacAdams, and Donald Allen. Anne Waldman and Kenward Elmslie are also mentioned (via mail and phone calls). He stayed with the Creeleys and then lived in a house shared with Whalen (one page is a drawing Joe made of two notes Whalen left him in the kitchen). I’m pretty sure Ron Padgett mentions in his memoir about Brainard, Joe, that Bolinas Journal was planned to be published all along, which makes sense. Not that the writing is premeditated, it’s the same sort of frank, self-conscious, funny, sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes totally glowing prose as I Remember, but reading Bolinas Journal as a project is interesting, and with as much as Brainard obsessed and flamed his own anxieties about “work,” Bolinas Journal is a prismatic example of pleasure-as-work, and vice versa, or what it means to produce work as an artist traveling, or what a community of artists is or does (especially since Bolinas is often referred to as the west coast hub of the New York school).


Regardless, it’s a really good book. In a review of Brainard’s Collected WritingsMarjorie Perloff describes Bolinas Journal as “boring,” saying about his journalistic writings and interviews in general that they are “not profound” and that “there is something missing here.” About the Collected as a whole she says, “300+ pages of such material may be too much.” I wonder what Perloff means by “boring” – as in nothing happens, or that it’s tedious? She probably means trite or shallow or inconsequential, i.e. “not profound.” The tired critic’s contradictory tropes of excess, both “too much” and “something missing,” betray the hollowness behind Perloff’s aesthetic devaluing, that Brainard’s particular and astoundingly unique dismissal of genre (both in his visual art and writing) doesn’t conform to received (or even progressive?) notions of literary purpose or beauty. Overall, she seems to find little value in Brainard’s writing other than that it is occasionally “amusing.” Leaving aside the critic’s larger political-aesthetic project, it seems to me difficult to read Bolinas Journal and not be equally delighted and decimated. If anything, this book has a kind of frayed elegance. And I mean frayed in the most permissible, potentially terrifying (for the writer) way, that it exposes the effects of a strain, the strain of being openly gay in the mostly heterosexual community of Bolinas and the strain of being an artist with deep anxieties about the quality and process of his own work. Brainard picks at these strains throughout:

“Being queer isn’t an easy habit to break. And usually, I have no desire to….And I do think that being ‘queer’ is an unnecessarily limiting as being 'straight.’”; “How I can be so shy and insecure, and such a conceited ass at the same time, is beyond me.”; “As for me - I was a bit embarrassed by my New York City diaries. (So melodramatic) And I wonder about my being somewhat 'primitive,’ and knowing it. And taking advantage of it.”; “The funniest things are hard to admit. Pills. That’s a hard thing to admit. That I take them. No, that’s not hard to admit. What’s hard to admit is that I needthem. (Sometimes) Thank God I’m vain enough not to let myself get carried away tho. And I take them only for work.”

Does Brainard calling his own homosexuality a “habit” point to anything less than a crisis? And I don’t mean that in a dramatic sense of personal disaster, but that referring to being queer as a habitual burden and then immediately observing that dichotomous sexuality is socially constructed, a deft turn to say the least, is exactly that frayed elegance Perloff misses, where the crisis is the writing’s own irresolvable position. That Brainard does this so simply (I want to say “does this with a surface that is also a depth,” but a surface that never trusts the stability of itself as a surface is probably better) shows how full and charged (over-full, glamorous, exuberant) the choices are in this writing. Also, how are these not two of the best sentences you’ve ever read?

“Another thing nobody likes around here is the postmistress Rose.”

“A little girl wants a quarter. Giving her a nickel she mumbles 'mother-fucker’ and walks away.”

There’s also this brief story about Joe losing a very old and expensive baroque pearl and emerald pendant on the beach during a 4th of July party, which is accompanied by a drawing of the lost pendant on the page next to it. The baroque pearl reminded me of the recent conversation about the baroque as aesthetic sparked by Stephen Burt’s essay about the “Nearly Baroque,” where the contemporary baroque (overwrought, visceral, decadent, excessive) is founded on a kind of deficiency (Perloff’s “something missing”). Joe’s reaction to losing the “imperfect” baroque pearl is compelling, and it seems, if you wanted to, that you could lay these sentences right on top of the Perloff/Burt argument, as if Brainard’s “loss,” which he experiences in a positive way as surprisingly casual affirmation of value, is exactly where critics might respond negatively to a lack of profundity:

“Funny tho, instead of reacting to the loss, I somehow got outside of myself, waiting and watching to see how I would react. Which I didn’t. I mean - I just more or less said to myself 'Well, it’s gone.’ Let me tell you that it really was a beautiful pearl. Very valuable too. And my most favorite thing.”

There’s a lot more to say about Bolinas Journal, how it deals with friendship and gossip, how it confronts sexuality and gender (and how it may be complicit with traditional values at times), how it refuses overused tropes about the New York school, how it performs the concept of illustration, how it works as a collaborative book, and so on. Copies of the original Bolinas Journal are rare (this one is ILLed from Arizona State), but it’s worth getting Brainard’s Collected, where it’s reproduced in full, if only to see the drawings. The last line of the book is:

“My idea of how to leave a place gracefully is to 'disappear.’”

CRYSTAL SET #9: Polar Ode by Eileen Myles and Anne Waldman (Dead Duke Books, 1979)


Polar Ode by Eileen Myles and Anne Waldman (Dead Duke Books, 1979). I found out about Polar Ode on the ABAA site looking through book listings late at night. I was surprised to have not heard about it before since there were so few female collaborations in the 2nd generation New York school. Polar Ode was written back and forth by mail between, as the end of the poem notes, New York, Boston, Cherry Valley, San Francisco, and Florida for “a reading at Zu, NYC December 22, 1978,” the winter solstice, and also the same day Bernadette was writing Midwinter Day in Lenox, MA, which is a cute nerd fact. The back matter notes that Polar Ode was printed at The Poetry Project in an edition of 350. The cover is by Steve Levine. A Secret Location on the Lower East Side lists four titles under Crony Books/Dead Duke Books in 1979-80, which was run by Greg Masters. At some point Dead Duke became Crony, which still exists now and recently published At Maureen’s, a collaboration between Masters and Bernadette from 1981 about staying at Maureen Owen’s house in Connecticut.

Like how Waldman and Ted Berrigan’s Memorial Day (1971) was written for the occasion of a reading on Memorial Day, and so moves through themes of death, loss, and remembrance, Polar Odewritten for a reading on the winter solstice, marks the movement of fall into winter and moves through ideas of cycles, seasons, and the subtle ways that bodies and time are kept or patterned, both on a large scale and in terms of personal movement and identity. The mythopoetic tropes of the seasons, especially how seasonal changes correspond to sexuality in Greek myths, become a way of approaching feminine sexuality, particularly being an openly gay woman poet. The gossip around Myles’ having come out in her poems at a reading (there’s a part about this in Inferno) repeats a few times, and a critique of “acceptable” femininity and sexuality runs throughout the poem, moving between flirting (“I mean, um, do you come here often”) to camp (“need more jewelry in this poem”) to abject (“And / as you’ve been taking oatmeal baths / I’ve been ‘eating it’ each morning”) to punk (“I like a good fire, / a good fuck”) to mystic (“that the goddess Parvati is having a business to do to be holy in this world, that Dickinson’s poems will make you cry, that you will cry”) assertions of female power and ability. There’s also this great movement between astrology and science as a way to open up ways of thinking about sexuality beyond heterosexuality’s mostly dichotomous codings. What it means to be hot or cold (summer or winter/turned on or turned off), in the city or out of the city, and having made it or not made it also recur as ways of interrogating sexuality and bodies, and behind that is this tension of being in the poem or out of the poem: “I once asked Blank to do a collaboration / and she said she didn’t do that sort of thing // I thought she was being snotty” (Based on what comes directly after this in the poem, my guess is that “Blank” here is Alice Notley.)

This leads into how fraught even the poetry community of the late-70s/early-80s in New York was when it came to including queer women: “Couldn’t be queer / until I was legit” and “I am curious to be queer young poet / for the first time / etc.” The poem quotes a number of lines from other poets that directly or indirectly address queerness, including from Frank O'Hara, Notley, and William Carlos Williams, to display the sexual marginalization embedded in their own avant-garde tradition. The phrase “asexual daze” repeats as this condensed acknowledgement of the violence of being forced to assign yourself a clear sexuality, but there’s also this attempt to throw off the assumption that it’s “a big deal” to be openly gay in a poem: “there was some comment, my dear, / on a recent poem of yours / using the pronoun "she” / for the first time / referring to a lover // was this a big step? // double brrrr. I took a pile of valium and / turned on the tube, / become one with her. A true truce.“ The avoidance of a direct answer with this gloriously decadent moment of fuckmerging attests to the poem’s audaciousness when any either/or distinction seems on the verge of splitting the poem, splitting the writers. There’s this great part where they’re playing with this 2nd wave feminism Wittig-cliche "all women are lesbians” and saying, Yes totally we’re all lesbians which means straight women are actually “deviants on ice,” which is funny since ice skating keeps coming up in the poem. Race, the canon, music (The Ramones, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads), the issues/difficulties of collaboration, drugs, spirituality, health, and capitalism all play a role in the poem as well. The last line of the poem, which is in quotes, is “'So, do you want to go to bed together?’”

On an unrelated note there’s also a great drunk John Ashbery moment (the “you” here is Anne): “John Ashbery, inebriated & coming on / the other night at / Jimmy Schuyler works reading: 'I want to SEE you!’ / 'But I’m going to Florida in the morning.’ / 'Don’t give me THAT!’”

CRYSTAL SET #8: Ceremony Latin (1964) by Bernadette Mayer (Angel Hair, 1975)


Ceremony Latin (1964) by Bernadette Mayer (Angel Hair, 1975). The book is 23 pages with no front or back matter and the Angel Hair address stamped on the inside of the back cover. The year 1964 is in the title because that’s when the book was written, so it is Bernadette’s “first” book, though it was her fourth published book following Story (1968), Moving (1971) and Memory (1975). In a July 17, 1989 lecture at Naropa, Bernadette describes Ceremony Latin (1964):

The structure of this book is simply the duplication of a journal that I kept when I was about 17, and it includes translation from Ovid, “The Golden Age,” and sort of funny journalistic notes and poems and things about how much I hated my grandfather. So all I did was print the journal itself and the reason I wanted to do it was because the keeping of this journal was what had inspired me to really want to become a poet, so I thought it might be beautiful and useful to other people.

Here’s a link to the full lecture: would have been 18/19 in 1964, but 17 is a fair stretch. Ceremony Latin was reissued in 2006 by Shark Books, which is only $6 at SPD and worth buying. They also did a reissue of The Baskbetball Article. I ILLed an original copy from Ball State that’s been maimed by being unbound and restapled into unmarked hardcover vomit brown flaps, though the cover and interior pages are in pretty good condition.

The book begins with a translation of Ovid, followed by pages of what look like poems but could be lists of notes and imagistic jottings, some “formed” poems, quotes from Psalms and Genesis, and transcriptions of dreams. For as disjointed as the materials in the book might appear, and for as casual as Bernadette makes the book’s preparation seem (“simply the duplication of a journal”), Ceremony Latin has a deliberate structure and accumulative movement that show the early formation of her poetics. The integration and appropriation of multiple voices using quotes and quotation marks, rich syntactical juxtapositions (“smells / lemon satchet”) that led to Bernadette’s importance for Language poetics, the mixture of the contemporary and antiquity (“the western party, Vestal Virgins”), and a vernacular prosody that integrates dream into the consequences and crises of the everyday – all formal choices that would become important to works such as Midwinter Day – are at work throughout Ceremony Latin. At one point “Christ” and “Billy Budd” parallel one another. At one another point she writes “A couch is but an imprimatur / for farts.” I cried, on the beach, when I read that. 

Her poems’ interest in desire, sexuality, and gender are also present here, most obviously in lines like “I masturbate with you I hope and my love is greater / than yours,” but in more subtle ways as well, like when she dreams of two women, “One is 189, the other 144 years old. Their breasts are / large and firm. They do not know how they can be so old. / Their conversation is trivial,” which echoes her earlier quote from Genesis, “And Lamech lived a hundred & 82 yrs and begot a son. / And Lamech lived after he begot Noe, five hundred & 95 yrs / & begot sons & daughters.” The tension here is between how men control the privilege of time, of being named, of being progenitors, and how women, despite their bodies, or perhaps because of how their bodies are compartmentalized based on male desire, remain anonymous, confused, trapped in “trivial” speech. Bernadette’s poems have never stopped insisting on the unacceptability of this paradigm, of confronting its violence, and forming movements through its difficulties. Later in the book she writes, “A nun helps me climb back up. I cling to her wondering / how my body feels to her. It is natural for me to be / clinging to her and not a man.” Her Catholic upbringing, and her struggle with its orthodoxy, is apparent throughout the book. The title Ceremony Latin, implying both the monolithic power-language of Catholic mass and the potential liberatory gesture of the poet-translator’s ritualistic attention to a “dead” language’s constructedness, foregrounds this question of language’s role in restricting/allowing certain ways of being in the world.

Overall, the book is funny, painful, and audacious, especially in its interest in the abject. How it is a book is also amazing to me, that it begins with a translation and moves through these various forms beyond a simple conception of “poem” and really kind of all collapses and rises together. It reminds me of the contemporary books I’ve been most obsessed by, how they break our idea of “poetry book” and “poem.” There’s also just no anxiety at all about this 23 page text being a book and not a chapbook, which is maybe a distinction we put too much weight on because of institutions. I don’t know, but I like how this book works as a book, and how it insists on being a book despite even how Bernadette tells us it is straight from a journal.

This is totally subjective, but the part of Ceremony Latin that most reminds me of “later” Bernadette poems is this page about halfway through the book, so I wanted to quote it in full. There’s no title. She mentions her sister, Rosemary Mayer, who became a visual artist, and Vito Acconci, who Bernadette edited the magazine 0 to 9 with in the late ‘60s.

Dream more real than life. Every old woman

is a fetus at a phony saints feet. There are no works

of art without sentiment. I doubt Rosemary’s interest

in art. I never dream about Vito. My conscious feeling

about him must be more real than dream. Jealousy is

worse than morality. Instead of a harmless father image

he has turned into a lover image and I was too slow in

realizing it I have committed my self to a whole set

of institutions superstitions prejudices projections and

customs which I denied & deny in my mind. Marriage

like this is half old and half new. I love queers.

The last page of the book has this one line on it: “Scorpions when threatened by fire commit suicide.”

CRYSTAL SET #7: Back in Boston Again by Tom Clark, Ron Padgett, and Ted Berrigan (Telegraph Books, 1972)


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 Renépart 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.”

Crystal Set #6: Memorial Day by Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman (Poetry Project, 1971)

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: 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": 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 Daywhich 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.

Crystal Set #5: The Basketball Article by Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer (Angel Hair Books, 1975)

The Basketball Article by Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer (Angel Hair Books, 1975). I think Cassandra sent me a pdf of The Basketball Article. I printed it out and stapled it together. It sat on a shelf for a while, then I read it, re-read it, saw there was an essay about it in The Color of Vowels that I didn’t read, saw it mentioned in an essay by Daniel Kane about Angel Hair, read it again. This is Bernadette’s note at the beginning, dated July 15, 1975:

THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE was conceived in November 1974 & written in April 1975 as an assignment for OUI magazine. We got to go to all the Nets games we wanted through Barney Kremenko, Publicity, but Jim Wergeles of the Knicks balked, “What do you girls really do?” We heard he was a jock. We went to the first women’s basketball game held in Madison Square Garden. We wrote a review that was rejected for being too technical. We tried not to make THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE too technical so it was rejected by a group of editors a few of whom thought it “was a minor masterpiece,” the others “couldn’t tell what the hell was going on” in it. We were rejected by the Village Voice for whom the work was not technical enough. An agent told us THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE was fragmented and could not be handled. We never got into the locker room. A purely prophetic work in the tradition of social realism, THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE is duplicated here in an edition of 100 copies, by a Gestetner 420 mimeograph machine using green film stencils no. 62. We express our thanks to Mr. DeBusschere, Mr. Kremenko, Mr. Padgett, Mr. Rezek, Mr. Robertson, & Mr. Warsh.

Is there a school for sports announcers? They should all have to read this. The note is such an amazing performance of the intricacies and tensions of how the female poets of the “second generation” New York school fucked with and played against the warp and mess of gender expectations in the 70s. The whole book takes those issues of male dominance and exposes them in the scene and celebrity of basketball. Two women conceiving together in spite of the jocks, how technical mastery or a failure to master (mister) is noticed/received/reviled, what it means to be seen and given access (publicity/privaticity), to have or not have titles, to be whole or in pieces, what it means to (mis)represent an ideology, to be rejected/accepted/handled/owned/duplicated, the clout of expertise and the disregard of being inept, the prophetic in the easily reproduced and popularly reported. “We never got into the locker room.” To be a charlatan, to be marginal, and to write out of and through the thrill and profanity of those deficiencies not as deficiencies but as channels of renewal. Joyful, flamboyant little aporias as the clock ticks down.

The Basketball Article predates the funny ESPN office commercials by 30 years, and undoes all of them. It’s only 13 pages long, but the prose has this irreducible audacity that so excellently combines Anne and Bernadette’s hilarious charm with their insistence on performing the complications of consumption and desire attached to being a female body. They talk about wearing lipstick to the games and flirting with the players. “We begin to dress in red, white and blue, we do not stand up for the national anthem.” They talk about how baffling they are to players, managers, and the press. “We enter their consciousness. We carry a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets with us.” They talk about their female bodies and the male bodies of the players and the exaggerations of bodies. “It’d be interesting to put Oscar Robertson into a dream laboratory. He never crossed his legs.” They talk about how they love it and couldn’t give a shit less. “We were sitting in our hotel suite at the Plankinton House in Milwaukee drinking Tequila Sunrises.” It’s really about pleasure, the pleasures of ritual and attention, how sports direct our pleasures, how poetry directs our pleasures. It wants us to talk about that space. The fact that they called it The Basketball Article, with the emphasis on the definite article “the” and how it names the text as a singular, authoritative gesture, like saying we, Bernadette and Anne, are going to write the article about basketball, is totally indicative of their audacity on a larger scale. Also, there’s a joke at the end of the book about Full Court Press, an amazing press that put out Frank O'Hara’s Selected Plays.

The picture on the cover of The Basketball Article is of a man speaking, who looks like a basketball player at a press conference, and a woman not speaking looking at the man. The picture really foregrounds the problems of reverence that Bernadette performs in her introductory note when she thanks the basketball people along with “Mr. Padgett” and “Mr. Warsh.” Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh, who edited Angel Hair together, used to be married. Bernadette and Lewis started seeing each other in 1975 and were having children together soon after. Anne and Bernadette’s shared pleasure in making this book, and their shared pleasure in these men, and how they articulate that pleasure on their own terms, is an incredibly radical sexual-poetic statement. It’s funny that Ron Padgett is mentioned though. Ron seems to continually end up being the butt of the joke whenever Bernadette, Anne, Alice, or Eileen talk about their relationships with male poets during that time. I’m writing this in Minneapolis where today someone told me they saw Ron read at a Swedenborgian Church. I want to play basketball with all of the poets at the Swedenborgian Church.


CRYSTAL SET #4: Book of Magazine Verse by Jack Spicer (White Rabbit Press, 1966)

Book of Magazine Verse by Jack Spicer (White Rabbit Press, 1966). I don’t know if Jack prepared the book for publication, but it was published the year after he died and the chronology in his collected poems does say he wrote it in spring/summer of 1965 and sent some of the poems out. According to the SF public library website White Rabbit put out 63 books between 1957-1968, including Jack’s After Lorca (1957). Book of Magazine Verse has 7 sections, each one titled something like “Two Poems for The Nation” or “Seven Poems for the Vancouver Festival,” the conceit being that Jack wrote each set of poems as a submission for that magazine, or whatever else, knowing they would likely be rejected. So the book is this joke about how writing poems becomes this business of publication and how editors police aesthetics. This kind of gesture seems in keeping with Jack’s snarky wit, sometimes remembered as him just being an asshole, but the book also represents his insistence that poems are not of this world, that they aren’t made to be discrete objects held in place under some lit mag’s temporary clout. This is the book’s dedication: “None of the poems in this book have been published in magazines. The author wishes to acknowledge the rejection of poems herein by editors Denise Levertov of The Nation and Henry Rago of Poetry (Chicago).” I don’t know how much it had to with the press, but in 1960 Spicer tried to start an art space in San Francisco called “White Rabbit College,” the name being a slight fuck you to Black Mountain College. Lisa Jarnot’s biography of Robert Duncan is the place to go for more about the intricacies of Spicer and Duncan’s relationship, one that was often very fucked. I remember one story where Jack sent a young male poet from his entourage to Vancouver with a message for Duncan and the kid saw him at a party, was all excited to given Duncan this message, and said to him something like “Jack wants to know if you can tell the difference between a poem and a streetcar” and Duncan freaked out on the kid, like who the fuck do you think you are, get the hell out of here. Years earlier, when they were very close, Spicer and Duncan had said about a poet they didn’t like that he couldn’t tell the difference between a poem and a streetcar. An amazing example of how far Spicer would go out of his way to piss someone off. But from our perspective 50 years later it also seems like such a devoted gesture. It’s hard to imagine Spicer, despite all the fights and shit talking and protesting against other poets, didn’t love his friends.


In the notes to his collected it says the cover, which is a replica of an old Poetrymagazine cover, was designed by Graham Mackintosh and Stan Persky. Each section is printed on a different kind of paper to simulate the kind of paper used in the magazine the poems were written for, from the glossy pages for Ramparts, a 60s-70s expensively produced political/lit mag, to the leafy brown newspaper-like pages for The St. Louis Sporting News, a section made of 4 poems “about” baseball. The poems remind me of Berrigan’s sonnets, maybe because they look similar on the page and have these off-kilter repetitions, but also because a whole poem repeats from one section to another. A note from Robin Blaser shows how this was in keeping with Spicer’s beliefs about dictation: “Jack did not know he had duplicated a poem until he read the poem to Stan Persky and me and we pointed it out. He looked surprised, checked them, and said that was the way they had to stand.”

I bought The Book of Magazine Verse at The Captain’s Bookshelf in Asheville, North Carolina, a place Steven Karl, Alexis Orgera, and I stumbled upon after eating vegan sausage on our way to Raleigh. Asheville is the Portland of North Carolina, a hill city still weird and thriving a few miles from Black Mountain College. The Captain’s Bookshelf is poetry dork heaven with a ton of rare editions and a poetry section full of treasures. I also bought a first edition of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. In the back the owners, who were so stoked to talk to us, showed us a painting that is a portrait of Kenneth Patchen with light and energy streaming out of Kenneth’s head. I think it was called Kenneth Patchen as a Spiritual Being. The Whitney Museum had just visited to appraise it for their collection but they didn’t want it because it had been mounted or something. Kenneth Patchen is from Ohio and one of the greatest least talked about poets and seeing this painting, I was kneeling on the ground looking at it, is one of the most important moments in my life. This is all to say that how I came to own The Book of Magazine Verse is bound up in some intense magic.

The Book of Magazine Verse is the last section in Jack’s collected and the last poem is about Allen Ginsberg with the first line “At least we both know how shitty the world is.” The poem is such a complicated articulation of the difficulties of love and freedom in terms of the public and the private and, because of its insistence on that difficulty, a totally incredible last poem for a book and for a life. Kevin Killian recently tracked down Spicer’s grave and you can read about that here: Daniel Katz’s new book about Spicer is also really good:

CRYSTAL SET #3: Utopia by Bernadette Mayer (United Artists Books, 1984)

Utopia by Bernadette Mayer (United Artists Books, 1984). This is Bernadette’s little red book. It is 130 pages + 17 page index. In addition to the index there are 21 sections including a preface, introduction, epilogue, “Utopia Address Book,” and selected bibliography. All the front and back matter, and the footnotes throughout, give the book this faux-scholarly/faux-encyclopedic feel. As Bernadette says, “One of the things about Utopia that I really wanted to do was to make it be sort of tongue-in-cheek like a textbook with a table of contents and a preface and an introduction and also, thanks to a friend of mine, a great index.” On the back cover there are 14 blurbs all written by Bernadette, like this one from Plotinus, “As for the sublime, little one, eat lobsters in your time,” and this one from Gertrude Stein, “Darling Bernadette this shit couldnt be better I’m proud of you.” My favorite is the one attributed to Ted Berrigan: “Utopia’s a terrific book, though I hate it intensely.”

I can’t describe how good this book is. The conceit is basically that Bernadette’s friend Grace Murphy, who the book is dedicated to, comes back from the future and describes a future utopia to her. The rest of the book is generated out of this conceit, like there is a section that describes all kinds of social arrangements and a section on utopian prisons, but nothing necessarily connects back or pretends to have formal or narrative fidelity to this beginning. Each section is formally different, mostly in prose, and with a lot of epigraphs, which gives it this feeling of constantly beginning. Because utopias are collaborative there is writing from a bunch of other people like Joe Brainard (about cockroaches), Rosemary Mayer (about utopian chairs), and Hannah Weiner (an incredible poem that takes on our cultural imaginary of government and peace in Native American cultures). There are also things by Anne Waldman, Charles Bernstein, Lewis Warsh, and others. Many of Bernadette’s friends also appear as characters in the book, like in the Gulliver’s Travels-like section there’s “Capt. John Padgett, a Tulsa man, commander, bound for Sure” and “the oldest sailor on board, Dutch Berrigan.The book fluctuates between the fantastic and the realistic as it maps out its utopia, a place/space that the book itself, with its permeable authorial borders and abundance of presence, comes to embody. There’s really not any other book like it, but it’s kind of like a cross between Edmund Berrigan’s Can It! and Stephanie Young’s Ursula or University, or imagine adapting Lisa Roberton’s Nilling into an absurdist action movie in the late 70s. At one point there is this frenzied dialogue between a couple dozen characters where Plato walks in and talks about "wielding my cunt like the state.”


I finished Utopia on the beach yesterday and was laughing a lot. Midwinter Dayis funny sometimes, and Bernadette’s work is always funny in general, but this book is hilarious. Nada Gordon has a great series of essays online about a bunch of Bernadette’s books that she wrote as her thesis in 1986, and she has one on Utopia addressing the book’s humor: “The work’s playfulness in fact enhances its liberatory gesture; it proposes that a world of benevolent pleasure replace the existing one of exploitative power structures.” Really, there is so much pleasure in this book. I was in such a warm buzzy space reading it, especially after watching a seagull stand on top of another seagull. But there were military jets flying back and forth over the coast from Eglin Air Force Base, one of the largest bombing and training ranges in the United States. The jets were the same color as the pelicans. I think Bernadette wrote Utopia planning to publish it in 1984 as a nod to Orwell, who is listed in the bibliography. As noted above, Ted Berrigan appears in a few ways in the book, and when he is mentioned it’s clear Bernadette is writing about him while he’s still alive. I don’t know, but Ted’s poem “In Your Fucking Utopias,” written (I think) in the early 80s, could have come out of a conversation around Bernadette’s book. There was some serious fighting in 1982 over the United Artists reissue of The Sonnets, and though that’s not something important to the book itself, Utopia, as a utopia, is a complicated embodiment of how tenuous and difficult love and friendship can be. But it’s also an embodiment of how we have to insist on and love through that difficulty.

At one point Bernadette misspells falafel. You can listen to her talk about the book and read from the index (the extensive “love” entries, of course) in this 1989 lecture at Naropa:


CRYSTAL SET #2: The Vermont Notebook by John Ashbery and Joe Brainard (Black Sparrow, 1975)

The Vermont Notebook by John Ashbery and Joe Brainard (Black Sparrow, 1975). This is like if Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lena Dunham made a movie, or if Bruce Springsteen and Prince made an album. The book is set up so that every left page is a black and white drawing by Joe and every right page is a poem by John. Reading The Vermont Notebook in Ashbery’s Collected was how I found out about Joe Brainard a few years ago. I think this is a good place to find out about Joe Brainard since the drawings are such a unified yet varied extension of his work in the 60s. Andy Fitch’s book Pop Poetics: Reframing Joe Brainard(Dalkey Archive) is where to go to know everything about Joe’s art and writing. Andy’s book is extraordinary because, as the title suggests, it asks how new readers can frame Brainard in the constellation of New York school poetries, Pop Art, early conceptualism, “New Realism” (see John’s poem of same title), and all other kitschy lushnesses. I love Joe Brainard. I have the second illustration from The Vermont Notebook tattooed on my right arm. The cover of Paul Killebrew’s terrific book Flowers (Canarium) is one of Joe’s flower pieces. It also has a poem in it called “John Fucking Ashbery.”

The Vermont Notebook is 101 pages, is dedicated to poet Doug Crase, and at the end there’s an amazing photo by David Kermani of Joe and John together at the bottom of a staircase, Joe leaning forward with his hand on his cheek giving the camera a dark, movie star gaze, and John in his mid-70s strong mustache phase, elbow on banister, finger hooked in belt, wryly grinning. There’s a lot of denim.


This copy is from Black Sparrow’s second printing in 1978. In 2001 Granary Books and Z Press co-published a reissue of the book with this blurb from John Yau: “This is John Ashbery at his wacky best, from long lists that seem to make some sense, to short lists that seem to make no sense, to made-up diary entries. Here we find Joe Brainard’s Americana… there’s a wonderful, nutty innocence to this book that is found in Brainard’s drawings and Ashbery’s writing: ‘his lips spell out the words: shale, cowturds, spread, udder, mumps.’” Descriptors I would add: campy, cinematic, sexy, homey. John is a goofball throughout, playing with queerness in a way that is more apparent here than a lot of his other work from this time, saying things like “Little nuts, big nuts,” and “This is where we are spending our vacation. A nice restful spot. Real camp life. Hope you are feeling fine.” One of Joe’s drawings is of a naked man, legs spread, hands behind his head. I forget who it is, but I read it somewhere. It’s gorgeous and very hot.

There’s an essay on The Vermont Notebook in this great book New York School Collaborations: The Color of Vowels but I don’t remember too much from it other than John wrote the poems while on a bus, partly in Vermont, and that the essay points out how The Vermont Notebook was overshadowed by the critical success of John’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, also published in 1975. The essay says the order they made the book, but I forget if the illustrations or poems came first; I think the poems. There are also some reviews of the book online. I ILLed this copy to see how different it was reading it outside John’s CollectedThe drawings are slightly bigger and bolder in this format and on different paper, so it’s worth finding a solo copy.

CRYSTAL SET #1: NEIL YOUNG by Tom Clark, Couch House Press (1971).

tom clark neil young.jpg

Neil Young by Tom Clark, Coach House Press (1971). The book is a small square. The cover and interior illustrations are by Joe Brainard, mostly close-up black and white drawings of the seams of jeans, but some “domestic” interiors and 70s science textbook-like photos, too. Tom and Joe probably said “jean seam” back and forth to each other and then Joe drew some and Tom put them in this book. It is dedicated to Clark Coolidge, which makes sense. There are 5 sections: Neil Young, Instant Party, Tom Toms, 33 Statements, and Tiny Messages. Those are all good titles. Neil Young is the longest and best, made up entirely of Neil Young lyrics taken out of context. This is awesome because Neil Young was famous in 1971 but not as famous as he would be after Harvest and On the Beach and Zuma. “Second generation” New York school poets were super into contemporary music and this is a good artifact of that love, which is mostly undocumented. Daniel Kane is working on a book about how New York punk and proto-punk was influenced by New York school poets, so that will be amazing and help us talk about it more. Cassandra told me Ted Berrigan taught a poetry class on Bob Dylan and called him Bobby the whole time. Ted had great taste, mostly because he was interested in bad taste. Let that be a lesson. Most pages are a small piece of text isolated in the center and then in a different font down next to the page number there is a weird non sequitur, like this page from the Neil Young section that says “You can’t be 20 on Sugar Mountain” in the center and “capitalism among insects” next to the page number. Going back and forth when you’re reading is what makes the book fun. Talking about it later is even more fun than reading it though because then things like “digestive wafers” seem funnier outside of the order of the book and how the Neil Young lyrics echo is great. It takes about 10-15 minutes to read the whole thing. It reminds me of Ron Padgett and Clark Coolidge’s collaborative book Supernatural Overtones (The Figures, 1990) which also does this thing with text in the center and text at the bottom. Supernatural Overtonesis archived at Eclipse and is worth reading because Ron Padgett and Clark Coolidge are individually terrific so terrific together.