17 June 2016

Bill Berkson Will Pass Among You Silently

Just heard that the American poet Bill Berkson died yesterday. He was 76 years old.

Berkson was the author of over 20 wonderful books of poetry, as well as volumes of art criticism, lectures, and memoir. He was also an enthusiastic collaborator with many other writers and artists. Among my favourite books of his are Our Friends Will Pass Among You Silently, Fugue, and Serenade. But everything he wrote is worth reading.

A few years back, I had the honour of including some poems by Berkson in my mag Peter O'Toole: The Magazine of One-Line Poems.

My new book, A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent, contains a poem for Bill Berkson, which I'm glad I got around to sending him shortly after I wrote it. (His response seemed, well … bemused in a friendly way.)


The pure pleasure of reading Bill Berkson’s Serenade (Zoland Books, 2000; cover and interior drawings by Joe Brainard) while I’m lying in the claw-footed bathtub is such that I levitate. My body rises beyond the rim of the tub, then about another metre, till I can see sweet cobwebs flutter from the ceiling, and I hear the water drain below me, and drops sail down from my naked body, and as they fall they turn to various colours of paint and, landing in the tub, they make a portrait of Bill Berkson. His features are hewn and striking, and he wears a white hat, which the drops quickly change to brown with a white band. I raise a hand and brush away the cobwebs, “Fragile as the glitter on Dame Felicity’s eyelid,” and the ceiling opens, an Underwood typewriter lowering until it’s hovering just over me, a sheet of white foolscap rippling on the platen. I type this poem, shave, dry myself off, pull on some jeans and a madras shirt, and win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

To Bill Berkson: good night and sleep well. Thank you for enriching the world of poetry with your incredible work. (Beautiful photo below, full of spirit and joy, by Robert Eliason.)

Over and out.


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