LIKE THE DISSOLVING OF A FORTY FILM – Bill Berkson, a poetic that ranges wildly in approach, style and subject

New art and old standards for sad and wise poetry

In his poems, translations and reflections, you find the pleasures of refinement and epigrammatic momentum. His mother was a Presbyterian, while his father was the managing director of the International News Service. Poet, critic and teacher active in the world of art and literature, Bill Berkson was born in New York in 1939, where he attended Trinity School. After his father’s death he dropped out of Brown University to return to New York, where he studied poetry at the New School for Social Research and attended both Columbia University and the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. He was a professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he taught art history, art writing and poetry. His poems may begin in prose, as a cue list or observational acuity.

REBECCA CUTLET – Such a flow of language! She moves into a strange, essentially legitimate world, or what she bets he throws it into the drink without a word, and the butter boils down to fat. It runs the risk that this revisionism will counteract the pitfalls. There is someone’s house and this man in it. Without being entirely satisfactory, that is all I can let you know, except to say that G, being the sound of two back molars and the tongue pressed hard against the outlet, is not in the first hundred or so pages. You don’t mind and anyway it’s only after the tricks wear off in the indestructible charm, the lowest common denominator of what you took this dive for in the first place. Follow her through her mind as you would through a rich wet well that is collapsing, but at the other end of which, where you see her frantically bouncing up and down, is sunlight, lots of photographs, and some text.

Encouraged by John Silver and Thomas H. Johnson, Bill Berkson continued to study short story writing, but his full commitment to poetry began to develop at the New School for Social Research. Under the impetus of Kenneth Koch, he became acquainted with the New York School artistic and poetic community, where he met poets and artists of his own generation such as Joe Brainard, Ted Berrigan and Jim Carroll. A member of the New York School, by Kenneth Koch he was introduced to poets, artists and musicians with whom he forged personal and artistic relationships. In 1960s Manhattan, where experimental poetry, music and visuals merged together, he will be present in most of the photographs that narrated that era.

TRAFFIC – The choice is painful, an opportunity but a nuisance. Poems are made by poets, that’s not a lie. What’s wrong with this town? A driver from New York says: There is too much art and too many art lovers! You are an artist? No, I only drive the taxi.

His insatiable appetite for the new allowed him to smell both the cultural flavor of the Woodstock Music Festival and a masquerade ball at the Plaza Hotel. He attended gatherings of poets and inaugurations of artists’ galleries, thus breathing the rarefied avant-gardes of the creativity of an era. Bill Berkson began working at ARTnews and the Museum of Modern Art, teaching literature at Yale University. Moving to Northern California in 1970, he began publishing poetry books and magazines under the Big Sky label, also engaging in the California program Poets in the Schools. Five years later he married Lynn O’Hare, of whom a son and also a daughter were born.

THE OBVIOUS TRADITION – I remember nothing, just the names and that their dates have been replaced by fees added malice: a huge yellow sun, finesse swallowed hard, a scrapbook in pantyhose lounging beside an expanse similar to Shreveport. But now you see him, he should call. Surely neither will converse, just recount, succumb to a shell life as messy as Tampax in June. Say hello to the grass terminus where the East Side used to be. Could there be a way to redefine the time behind his jaunts, the pubescent images a hand conjures as, waving, it is tossed into the pickle? The phantom tug slips away deep past Garbo’s curtains and withering united enamel, entangling dark signatories in the sarong of the windows. Things go further in need how could I? Or are they immune? How else was I taught to guess and then told to know, because matter equals good? A silky light mask the entrance to the time-tested market.

In his poems he has developed a style that draws on the conversational, whimsical and surreal. His Fifth Avenue apartment saw cocktail parties filled with movie stars and journalists, including Cecil Beaton, Bob Considine and Tex McCrary. Bill Berkson is the author of several poetry collections, including Portrait and Dream. His poems have been translated into French and Russian, Italian, German and Spanish. Les Parties du Corps is a selection of his poems translated into French. Among other books, he made What’s Your Idea of Fun? He pushed his creative curiosity to realize projects with some visual artists and poets, among them Alex Katz and Lynn O’Hare and Greg Irons, Frank O’Hara and Ron Padgett. In 1998 he married Constance Lewallen, with whom he lived in San Francisco, where he died of a heart attack in San Francisco in 2016. His archive is held at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut.

OUT OF THE DEPARTMENT STORE – The population has grown, it has increased: the world has more people, richer people and many, many poorer people because that’s the way it is, and so we know how many more people there must be.

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