cover image Berrigan: Selected Poems

Berrigan: Selected Poems

Alice Notley, Ted Berrigan. Penguin Books, $12.5 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-14-058699-2

Berrigan (1934-1983) was a prolific poet and, many feel, a major figure of the second generation New York School poets. The highlight of this collection is its grand finale, a hefty selection from Berrigan's 1967 volume, The Sonnets , which changed the perception of poetry for many of its younger practitioners. The poems bear no resemblance to traditional sonnets other than (usually) being 14 lines; one can see how this uniform length and line enabled Berrigan in these early poems to withstand diversion and tomake sense out of the disorder of day-to-day goings-on. Later poems are longer, meandering in no direction and every direction at once. Fragments of songs and classic poems are inserted, adding a new and often humorous context: ``I woke up this morning / it was night / you were on my mind / on the radio.'' While often seeming juvenile, this casual effect is used to its best advantage in a few poems that turn suddenly serious, such as a sensitive elegy for his father. This volume is just long enough to display most of Berrigan's tricks yet draws to a close before readers become bored. It includes an introduction by poet Alice Notley, Berrigan's widow. (Mar.)