Biography of Ted Berrigan
Berrigan was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on November 15, 1934. After high school, he spent a year at Providence College before joining the U.S. Army in 1954 to serve in the Korean War. After three years in the Army, he finished his college studies at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, where he received a B.A. in English in 1959 and falling just short of the requirements for a M.A. in 1962. Berrigan was married to Sandy Berrigan, also a poet, and they had two children, David Berrigan and Kate Berrigan. He and his second wife the poet Alice Notley were active in the poetry scene in Chicago for several years, then moved to New York City, where he edited various magazines and books.
The New York School
A prominent figure in the second generation of the New York School of Poets, Berrigan was peer to Jim Carroll, Anselm Hollo, Ron Padgett, Anne Waldman, and Lewis Warsh. He collaborated with Padgett and Joe Brainard on Bean Spasms, a work significant in its rejection of traditional concepts of ownership. Though Berrigan, Padgett, and Brainard all wrote individual poems for the book, and collaborated on many others, no authors were listed for individual poems.
In 2005, Ted Berrigan's published and unpublished poetry was published together in a single volume edited by the poet Alice Notley, Berrigan's second wife, and their two sons, Anselm Berrigan – a poet – and Edmund Berrigan, a poet and songwriter.
The poet Frank O'Hara called Berrigan's most significant publication, The Sonnets, “a fact of modern poetry.” A telling reflection on the era that produced it, The Sonnets beautifully weaves together traditional elements of the Shakespearean sonnet form with the disjunctive structure and cadence of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Berrigan’s own literary innovations and personal experiences. The product is a composition, in the words of Berrigan’s editor and second wife Alice Notley, “[that is] musical, sexy, and funny.”
Berrigan was initially drawn to the sonnet form because of its inherent challenge; in his own words, "the form sort of [stultifies] the whole process [of writing]." The procedure that he ultimately concocted to write The Sonnets is the essence of the work’s novelty and ingenuity. After attempting several sonnets, Berrigan decided to go back through what he had written and take out certain lines, one line from each work until he had six lines. He then went through the poems backwards and took one more line from each until he had accumulated six more lines, twelve lines total. Based on this body of the work, Berrigan knew what the final couplet would be; this process became the basis for The Sonnets. Addressing claims that the method is totally mechanical, Berrigan explains that some of the seventy-seven sonnets came to him "whole," not needing to be pieced together. The poet’s preoccupation with style, his concern for form and his own role as the creator as evinced by The Sonnets pose a challenge to traditional ideas about poetry and signify a fresh and innovative artistic approach.
The book recognizes the eternal possibility for invention in a genre seemingly overwhelmed by the success of its traditional forms. By imitating the forms and practices of earlier artists and recreating them to express personal ideas and experiences, Berrigan demonstrates the potential for poetry in his and subsequent generations. As Charles Bernstein succinctly comments, “Part collage, part process writing, part sprung lyric, Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets remains…one of the freshest and most buoyantly inspired works of contemporary poetry. Reinventing verse for its time, The Sonnets are redolent with possibilities for our own.”
Berrigan died on July 4, 1983. The cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver.
Ted Berrigan's Works:
The Sonnets (1964)
Living With Chris (1965)
Some Things (1966)
Bean Spasms, with Ron Padgett and Joe Brainard (1967)
Many Happy Returns (1967)
Peace: Broadside (1969)
Memorial Day, with Anne Waldman (1971)
Train Ride (1971)
Back In Boston Again, with Ron Padgett and Tom Clark (1972)
The Drunken Boat (1974)
A Feeling For Leaving (1975)
Red Wagon (1976)
Clear The Range (1977)
Nothing For You (1977)
Yo-Yo's With Money, with Harris Schiff (1979)
Carrying a Torch (1980)
So Going Around Cities: New & Selected Poems 1958-1979 (1980)
In a Blue River (1981)
A Certain Slant of Sunlight (1988)
Selected Poems (1994)
Great Stories of the Chair (1998)
The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan (University of California Press, 2005) NOH (1969)
Ted Berrigan Poems
A Certain Slant of Sunlight
In Africa the wine is cheap, and it is on St. Mark's Place too, beneath a white moon. I'll go there tomorrow, dark bulk hooded against what is hurled down at me in my no hat
We are involved in a transpersonified state Revolution, which is turning yourself around
Before I began life this time I took a crash course in Counter-Intelligence Once here I signed in, see name below, and added Some words remembered from an earlier time,
In Joe Brainard's collage its white arrow He is not in it, the hungry dead doctor. Of Marilyn Monroe, her white teeth white-
10 Things I do Every Day play poker drink beer smoke pot
Winter in the country, Southampton, pale horse as the soot rises, then settles, over the pictures The birds that were singing this morning have shut up I thought I saw a couple kissing, but Larry said no
ripped out of her mind a marvelous construction thinking
Things to Do in New York (City)
Wake up high up frame bent & turned on Moving slowly & by the numbers
Mountains of twine and Teeth braced against it Before gray walls. Feet walk Released by night (which is not to imply
It is important to keep old hat in secret closet.
Here I am at 8:08 p.m. indefinable ample rhythmic frame The air is biting, February, fierce arabesques on the way to tree in winter streetscape
Things To Do On Speed
mind clicks into gear & fingers clatter over the keyboard as intricate insights stream out of your head;
Personal Poem #9
It's 8:54 a.m. in Brooklyn it's the 26th of July and it's probably 8:54 in Manhattan but I'm in Brooklyn I'm eating English muffins and drinking Pepsi and I'm thinking of how Brooklyn is
10 Things I Do Every Day
wake up smoke pot see the cat love my wife
Buddha On The Bounty
for Merrill Gilfillan
'A little loving can solve a lot of things'
She locates two spatial equivalents in
The same time continuum. 'You are lovely. I
am lame.' 'Now it's me.' 'If a man is in
Solitude, the world is translated, my world
& wings sprout from the shoulders of 'The Slave''
Yeah. I like the fiery butterfly puzzles