Poet Ted Berrigan's close friend Ron Padgett co-edited Dear Sandy, a collection of letters the young Ted wrote his wife when she was institutionalized by her parents for marrying him.
What was your relationship with Ted while he was writing these letters?
We were both living in New York on the Upper West Side, but I was keeping my distance from him. Although we saw each other and there was no overt hostility, I was feeling a bit cool toward him during that period.
How do you think all Ted's interests in writers and artists come together in these letters?
They combined in several ways. First, in a general way, that is, as an affirmation that art and literature really do matter in one's life. Ted was encouraged by all the great art he was seeing in New York and all the books he was reading. In a more literary sense, he was studying his favorite writers and artists from a technical point of view and trying to apply what he found to his own writing.
By free associating so much in his letters, do you think he was exploring a state of confusion?
I suspect that he was using his letters to Sandy partly to find out what he thought and how he felt. Sometimes you can't do that until you try to articulate it and, in doing so, you stumble, free associate, and try out ideas to see how they sound out loud, so to speak. When you have the privacy that letter writing allows, you're willing to let your mind go and be more open than if you were writing for the public, of course. The letters allow us to see so intimately inside the mind and heart of a poet and to see how intense he is about it all, how single-minded he was and how he devoted himself to this peculiar art of poetry. So no, I don't think he was confused. He was quite determined, actually, defiant about his position as a penniless poet in a society that had no use for such a person.
Were Ted's reactions to repressive cultural values formed by literary influences?
A lot of his reactions to all social values were conditioned by literature. Deeper down was his upbringing. Ted was reared an Irish-American Catholic, and as a young man he was introduced to the ideas of Catholic theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas, people who had dissected issues of good and evil in detail and with great discernment, examining the ambiguities of such questions. So Ted's religious upbringing made him think these things were important, and as a maturing young man he felt he had to define good and evil for himself and be alert to the nuances of how something good can become evil and vice versa, or be both at the same time. Ted was very interested in religious, philosophical, and moral issues, though sometimes his behavior didn't show it. That's partly why these letters are so fascinating.