Dear Sandy, Hello:
Letters from Ted to Sandy Berrigan
by Ted Berrigan
Coffee House Press
$19.95 List Price
In early February of 1962, poet Ted Berrigan, age twenty-seven and virtually unpublished, drove from New York to New Orleans to visit his friend Dick Gallup, a student at Tulane. (They had met in Oklahoma. The two of them, along with Joe Brainard and Ron Padgett, would eventually be affectionately dubbed, by John Ashbery, the “soi disant Tulsa School” extension of the even more humbly tagged “second-generation New York School.”) Another reason for the drive was that Ted wanted to check to see whether his first, self-published collection, A Lily for My Love (1959), was stored at the Library of Congress, so that, if so, he could steal it to destroy it (juvenilia). It was and he did. A couple of weeks later, he carried out another of the trip’s aims, the acquisition of his master’s degree at the University of Tulsa, thereby enabling his immediate return of the diploma with the explanation that he considered himself “the master of no art.”
Berrigan, though almost always broke, lived large poetically. Hardly anyone was there to notice when he made the above-noted legend-worthy gestures. He was the fully self-aware Quixote of poets: a funky god, the Quixote who was his own author, inventing himself out of what was lying around. The value of human gods is the inspiration they provide. Berrigan’s time on earth (he died in 1983) gave us proof that it’s possible to live full time solely as a poet, suffer all the horrible material consequences of that commitment, and remain (mostly) lovely, largehearted, and sane. This while contributing great beauty and wit to the reservoir of poetry.
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