Serenade: Poetry and Prose 1975-1989

Bill Berkson, Author, Joe Brainard, Illustrator
Bill Berkson, Author, Joe Brainard, Illustrator Zoland Books $13 (125p) ISBN 978-1-58195-016-8
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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This ample, handsome and invaluable collection catches Berkson at his rhythmically impeccable best, a serene master of the syntactical sleight, transforming the mundane into the marvelous. In dreams indistinguishable from learned discourses, domestic scenes charted with patient hilarity and memory pieces rendered with uncanny precision and fast-paced immediacy (like an Astaire dance sequence), Berkson's artifice is glimpsed through the astonishing absence of mistakes. Whether condensed to a few lines, as in ""Familiar Music,"" ""Star Motel"" or ""Stamina,"" or unleashed at 25-page stretches, as in the brilliant ""Start Over"" (as worthy a companion to O'Hara's ""Second Avenue"" and Schuyler's ""Hymn to Life"" as the past quarter-century has produced), the poems gathered here have a windfallen pattern that lasts only as long as it must, then scatters again into the mess of sensation from which it issued: ""Today they went away to stay/ Furnishings deranged like looks in instant photographs/ One frame we squabble, next we sweetly mend/ Cooling heels entwined on a daybed,/ Seemingly refreshed"" (""You Sure Do Some Nice Things""). In light of their original composition dates, these works will no doubt be read as further evidence of the aesthetic cross-fertilization between ""late"" New York School writing and the Language-centered avant-garde of the '70s and '80s. Beyond such documentary value, the volume retains a jubilant contemporaneity and a dazzling verbal wit : within its pages, ""anyone can anything anytime."" The late artist and author Joe Brainard contributes five previously unpublished drawings. (Apr.)
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