Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bill Berkson and Philip Metres at Myopic Books: Our Celestial Respiratory Function(s)

Thanks to poet Jennifer Karmin (who led me to Larry) and Larry Sawyer (poet, editor of Milk Magazine, and curator of the Myopic Poetry reading series), I found myself reading with Bill Berkson, whose works were introduced to me by Mike Magee some years ago. (If you've never heard Bill read before, you can hear a number of his readings archived at PennSound here.)

Bill has the blessed curse of having befriended such New York School dazzlers as Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch, whose literary immortality has been in inverse proportion to their time on earth, and a number of his recent poems reflect on this dilemma, including the aptly titled "The Pantheon is Flooded." One of a series of epigram poems, "Friends," begins: "my friends are ascending...destiny does things like that." Among my favorites of his reading were "Salad Spinner," with its derangement of Picabia ("you must grab time by the hair...tickle the impossible,)" the political found poem, "Public Service Announcement," "Without Penalty," among others. Though it's fairly safe to say that the New York School poets eschewed very explicit political poems, it's also true that they themselves at various moments, and critics like Mike Magee, have made compelling arguments for their engagement in the progressive political traditions of pragmatism. In his recent work, Berkson demonstrates his engagement in both the explicit and implicit political work of poetry.

All of our poems were read to the accompaniment of caterwaulers strumming on guitars and banjos on the street below, much to our sonic confusion. If only they'd been in the same room, we might have been able to syncopate. Afterwards, we went out for gelato and other Italian delights at Francesca's, where I had the chance to talk with Connie, Berkson's wife, curator at UCal Berkeley, about recent political art.

Thanks again to Larry Sawyer, Jennifer Karmin, Patrick Durgin, Alan and Diane Levin (for the photos!) and my folks, all of whom participated, even just by being there. And to Hugh, for videotaping the event.

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