Academic journal article Chicago Review

Serenade: Poetry and Prose 1975-89

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Serenade: Poetry and Prose 1975-89

Article excerpt

Bill Berkson does not have the cartoonish humor of Ron Padgett, or the deadpan directness of the late Joe Brainard. Because of this lack of a signature style, Berkson is often overlooked--even by devotees of the second-generation New York School with which he is associated. Yet his latest collection, Serenade: Poetry and Prose 1975-89, offers many pleasures-- not least of which is its easy movement between quotidian detail and a more abstract, thicker diction. Take, for example, "Drill" (presented in its entirety):

Fixed breakfast

Patch on an old shoe

Wild oats stiffen

Foxtails stick

Skylight

Walleye

Webs

Whisked

Scramble

Disperse

Wistful

She's querulous

Hills

A fanbelt clouds

I allow as how

I recommend

"A pox on you"

The videotape crew (43)

The poem hovers on the edge of daily life, and suggests the day's beginnings through a series of phonemic transformations (such as stick to whisk to wist). "Walleye" perhaps embodies what is at work here--denoting both the fish being cooked, and the slightly askew perspective. In other places, Berkson writes in a more directly diaristic mode, and allows for a more prolific accumulation of details:

Dutch paint clay pipes. A stable margin of slow to no-go crams

now old clamshell full of butts. …

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