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A few years ago, poet Bill Berkson was at a friend’s dinner party where the conversation steered towards romantic movies. The poet began musing about the climactic kiss in Hollywood films and the concept of happily ever after. When he went home that night, he wrote his thoughts down in a poem called “Reprise,” which appears in his collection “Expect Delays,” published in November.
“Just as I’m happy to sit down and quote other people, you take your lines and poems wherever you can get them,” Berkson told Art Beat.
Berkson’s poetry isn’t known for one particular style, and “Expect Delays” captures that variety. He describes it as a “sense of scatter.” The collection showcases different approaches and writing styles, varying between abstract and concrete, related experiences and unrelated.
It’s his first book since his 2009 “Portrait and Dream,” which collected 50 years of work. Through the process of editing that collection, Berkson pored over five decades of his poetry and began to see the full range of his writing. For the first time, he says he let himself take pleasure in it.
“I used to worry about not having a signature style or central subject matter or a fixed character of poetry and at some point the worry ceased,” he said. “I gave myself permission to do what I’ve been doing all along without worrying about it. In one way, I’m too old to worry — I’ve been doing this for nearly 60 years — and so it’s really that I learned to enjoy that I could write pretty much anything that came my way, that I would be given to write or inclined to write.”
Listen to Bill Berkson read “Reprise” from his new collection “Expect Delays.”
“Happily ever after”—you don’t know that feeling? After many difficulties
the two stars are kissing with their eyes closed, and the music swells.
The screen says THE END in big block letters. Happy ending: you’re
set for life. In the seats everyone is choked up, crying for the happiness
such prolonged kissing promises. Meanwhile, kissing itself is amazing.
I got completely lost in it. I went out and started kissing anyone I could find.
Who? I always had good taste in women.
For Paul & Isabelle, January 13, 2012
at Mary Valledor & Carlos Villa’s
“Expect Delays” is divided into four sections. One section includes acrostic poems Berkson wrote for friends’ birthdays and weddings, and for his wife on Valentine ’s Day. He debated whether to include this section in the book. “Most of them would come under the heading of light verse and very occasional and person-to-person,” he said. “In one way would they be taken seriously and, in another, they were too private, but then I thought, not at all…. It gives a wider sense of what I do as a poet.”
Another section offers three “arrangements” that vary from prose to poetry to stray lines and aphorisms. Berkson wrote these starting in 2005 in one long document on the computer.
“As I was adding things to it, I began to see that some of these things are connected, but not necessarily one after the other in chronological order. Not like a diary, not like a journal or daybook, but I began collaging them, really.”
Berkson thanks his “good editorial imagination” for his ability to organize his work. It’s the same skill, he says, that helps him strengthen poems that give him trouble.
Berkson recalls another poet’s musing on the art form as a way “to keep the language from going insane.”
“I think that is something very useful for poets to keep in mind these days,” he said. “There’s also that little insanity in poetry that does everybody some good.”
“Reprise” from “Expect Delays” by Bill Berkson, courtesy of Coffee House Press.
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