Integrity & Dramatic Life

Anselm Berrigan, Author Edge Books $14 (64p) ISBN 978-1-890311-05-6
A brooding intellect injected into the effusive lyricism of the New York School makes Berrigan's famous parentage--he is the son of poets Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley--an inheritance he self-awarely transforms. Berrigan is not so much undoing intellectualism as trying to wear it lightly, and lyricize it in ways that may at first resemble the work of Ron Padgett, but comes closer to the more sublimated pleasures of John Ashbery: ""Do I have to slip into a box/ To prove my disinterest in watching my step?"" Berrigan posits a kind of detachment that can co-exist with a heavily marked social calendar (""the phone never rings I never get it when it does""), yet is wryly aware that as a poet ""you can get a medal for running in circles, that's integrity for you,"" and thus balances the sometime solemnity of art with a ""dramatic life"" that can ""instantly trivialize anything."" At the tender age of 26, Berrigan is a master of the exuberant, and reading the book straight through can somewhat diminish the quirky insights and intense subjectivity of the individual poems. Yet the pathos of ""8/1/97""; the slower, intimate, tenderness of ""To what end is what we got...""; and the formal quatrains that appear at the end of the sprawling poem ""Ghost Town""--""To be as strange as what/ The heart contains as method/ Of departure it makes sense/ To shake when approaching""--evidence an impressive tonal range. An exciting debut that taunts its own allure--""Catullus didn't/ Have to go down on the mic""--Berrigan's book is a rare, beautiful keeper. (Apr.) FYI: Poet Rod Smith, the buyer/manager of Bridge Street Books in Washington, D.C., has published Edge Books since 1989.
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
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