Ted Berrigan’s Birthday

Ted Berrigan (1934-1983)

Ted Berrigan‘s birthday. Ted adored Allen. Alongside the late-lamented Frank O’Hara, he was the one. Ted had this embarrassingly patriotic poetic tribal conceit, and in that context Allen was “the President” of Poetry (analogous to Allen’s own gleeful imaginative “shadow cabinet” – “Vachel Lindsay Secretary of the Interior/Poe Secretary of Imagination/Pound Secty. of Economics..” (Death to Van Gogh’s Ear)

a particular poetic form (a quintessential “New York School” form) – the list poem


Ron: the tight-ass
Dick: the insignificant
Pat: the dowdy old lady
Anne: the superficial sentimentalist
Bill: the spoiled snoot..

Kerouac, of course, was famously interviewed by Berrigan (along with “William Saroyan‘s son” (sic), Aram Saroyan, and Duncan McNaughton), and famously slipped him a little “speed” pill, notwithstanding the watchful and disapproving eyes of Stella – but that’s another story.

“I drink some American poison liquid air which bubbles/and smoke to have character and to lean/In. The streets look for Allen, Frank, or me, Allen/is a movie, Frank disappearing in the air…

From Ted’s “classic” poem, “Red Shift”. It is, perhaps, worth pointing out that when he wrote those lines, he was writing metaphorically, Allen had yet to become “a movie”.

The Berrigan-Ginsberg connection. Allen admired and looked down benevolently upon Ted. He saw him, (like his friend Ed Sanders), as co-worker, peer, and historically authentic, (“the last of the Beatniks”), as a clearly charismatic and influential figure in the so-called “New York School” (confrere of “the Beats”), and a beloved and familiar figure in his neighborhood (on “the Lower East Side”), an unofficial “President” himself, to that central institution, the St. Mark’s Poetry Project

It was he, after all, who had suggested Bob Rosenthal for the position as his secretary (a proposition he became immediately and eternally grateful for). It was he, later, who became the secret editor and was the presiding genius, (and, in shaping, sometimes almost co-creator), of Peter Orlovsky‘s single and singular collection, Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs.

He also remembered him, like Ed, as one of the “bright young things”, the “Young Turks”, in 1965, at the legendary Berkeley Poetry Conference.

There was also the life-time life-long relationship with Anne Waldman. If Allen didn’t keep up a full day-by-day accounting of Ted and his achievements (busy lives – “Allen/is a movie”), there was always Anne (and Bob too) to keep him abreast. Ted, in those days, living on St. Mark’s Place (“(I)..verbalized myself a place/In Society. 101 St. Mark’s Place..”), with his second wife, the poet Alice Notley and their two sons, Anselm and Edmund.

Vintage Berrigan, a couple of old (black-and-white) videos have recently re-surfaced – one, from a 1977 reading with the poet, Harris Schiff (introduced by the vivacious, effervescent, Didi Susan Dubleyew, and brought to us by the incomparable Pennsound and through the graciousness of the St Mark’s Poetry Project) – and another, from approximately the same time, a collaborative reading, Anne and Ted, reading together in Ted Greenwalds 98 Greene Street Loft series, reading from (reading in its entirety!) their wonderful book-length collaborative poem “Memorial Day”)

An audio interview and readings (including a full reading, from the New Langdon Arts series, San Francisco, from his breakthrough book of Sonnets this one dating from 1981), is available on Pennsound – (see here, incidentally, for a transcript of notes on the Sonnets – from a 1979 St.Mark’s Poetry Project talk)Here‘s Ted in a recording made at the University of Iowa in the Spring of 1969, and here‘s another of those early recordings (recorded the previous year, with Ron Padgett, and including audio of a reading that they had both given in New York, four years earlier)Here’s audio of Ted’s Naropa readings (with Diane Di Prima in 1975with Jack Collom and Alice Notley in 1976with Peter Orlovsky and Reed Bye in 1979with Mushka Kochen and Alice Notley in 1980 – and with Clark Coolidge and Robert Creeley, on the occasion of the Jack Kerouac On The Road Conference in 1982)Allen (and Anne) made a point of having Ted out at Naropa from the earliest days and there’s, fortunately, considerable record of his readings and talks there in the wonderful and recently refurbished Naropa Archives.

Anne Waldman and Ted Berrigan at Naropa Institute

Among the highlights – a six-part “Visiting Poets Academy” (with Alice Notley) in 1978 (the first part may be listened to here), a three-part “Visiting Poets Academy” the following year (click here for the first part), a 1980 class on “Outriders” (Ron Padgett, Anselm Hollo, James Schuyler, Robert CreeleyDick Gallup stops by), and a tour-de-force, his lecture at the Kerouac Conference – “On Being A Poet”,
Transcription of that talk can be found in the hard-to-find but, frankly, essential Talisman book, On The Level Everyday – Selected Talks on Poetry and The Art of Living (edited by Joel Lewis – with an Introduction by Alice Notley). A single representative example from that book, (“Incredible Masterpieces”) may be found here . Further Berrigan-as-talker can be found hereand, of course, in the evocatively-titled volume of interviews that was published in 1991 from Leslie Scalapinos O Press,(in conjunction with Avenue B books), Talking In Tranquility

Ted’s amazing fake interview with John Cage that appeared in Peter Schjeldahl‘s Mother magazine in 1966 (Cage was, apparently, at first horrified, then mollified), can be read here.

Turning to the poems, (as his mentor-hero Frank O’Hara famously declared, it’s all in the poems),as befitting to his stature, the University of California have put out a handsome Collected and Selected Poems (both exquisitely edited by his widow (Alice Notley) and their two sons, Anselm and Edmund

For miscellaneous on-line poems, try here, here, here, here, here and here. There’s the legendary “Bean Spasms” and.. but why don’t you just go and buy the book(s)!


Joe Brainard – cover to “Bean Spasms” (Kulchur Press, 1967)

A posthumous “round-robin” “Sonnets” presentation, from 1993, presented by Naropa students, and hosted by Mark Ducharme and Chuck Pirtle has participation by Allen. At approximately twenty-four-and-three-quarter minutes into the tape, he can be heard reading “Sonnet XXVII” (Andy Butt was drunk in the Parthenon/ Bar. If only the Greeks were a band-/Aid, he thought..”)

..even more Berrigan on the web? – We have featured before the clip of him reading “Whitman in Black” (a “star turn” in Ron Mann’s 1982 film, Poetry in Motion, but last time we clipped off the last line, so here’s the whole thing.

– “I surrender!”.

Joe Brainard & Ted Berrigan – Love Pictures (Cover of C Magazine

Madison Morrison, Ted Berrigan, Allen Ginsberg

University of Oklahoma Professor Madison Morrison with Ted Berrigan and Allen Ginsberg in Norman, Oklahoma,1978

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