Cover image for Serenade : poetry and prose, 1975-1989
Serenade : poetry and prose, 1975-1989
Berkson, Bill.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Zoland Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
125 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3552.E7248 S47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Bill Berkson's many books of poetry include Saturday Night: Poems 1960-61, Recent Visitors, Blue Is the Hero, Enigma Variations and Lush Life. Long anticipated, the present volume gathers together most of his poetry and extended prose from 1975 to the end of the 1980s. An attentive critic as well, Berkson is a regular contributor to such magazines as Art in America, Modern Painters, Artforum, American Craft and Art on Paper. He lives in San Francisco and teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute. Book jacket.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

This ample, handsome and invaluable collection catches Berkson at his rhythmically impeccable best, a serene master of the syntactical sleight, transforming the mundane into the marvelous. In dreams indistinguishable from learned discourses, domestic scenes charted with patient hilarity and memory pieces rendered with uncanny precision and fast-paced immediacy (like an Astaire dance sequence), Berkson's artifice is glimpsed through the astonishing absence of mistakes. Whether condensed to a few lines, as in "Familiar Music," "Star Motel" or "Stamina," or unleashed at 25-page stretches, as in the brilliant "Start Over" (as worthy a companion to O'Hara's "Second Avenue" and Schuyler's "Hymn to Life" as the past quarter-century has produced), the poems gathered here have a windfallen pattern that lasts only as long as it must, then scatters again into the mess of sensation from which it issued: "Today they went away to stay/ Furnishings deranged like looks in instant photographs/ One frame we squabble, next we sweetly mend/ Cooling heels entwined on a daybed,/ Seemingly refreshed" ("You Sure Do Some Nice Things"). In light of their original composition dates, these works will no doubt be read as further evidence of the aesthetic cross-fertilization between "late" New York School writing and the Language-centered avant-garde of the '70s and '80s. Beyond such documentary value, the volume retains a jubilant contemporaneity and a dazzling verbal wit : within its pages, "anyone can anything anytime." The late artist and author Joe Brainard contributes five previously unpublished drawings. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One     Basis They index mosaics Of who they have agreed to meet and operate Out of webs of future nut-nurtured void Denigration would be constant I forgot whom I was speaking to for an instant And would have been a bad boy Had there not been brevity and merit in another As the corner is a quarried conviction Head bang over walls, chair Cnidus, August 4th        for Larry Kearney I put the candy in your hand and returned to my bee-watching. Stamina could use tempo as a near-moral qualification. Pleasant buzz, frightful sting. The melteme , bad wind, that forced him to travel the lower coast of Turkey -- Lycia, Anatolia, Castellorizzo -- instead of the better-mythologized islands of Greece. Arcana accessible via salt marsh. And that's where Saint Nicholas was born. "Me curator!" with a hip of 0.38 so's you don't take the pictures, tesselated, from the floor. The door got repaired by adding to it. What he took to be the sea as the overview of the Delphic oracle was an olive grove -- groves , really, sea-green, extending the slope to the real sea a few miles out. "Wuz ya ever bit by a dead bee?" "Did you get my rubber gloves?" The oracle put two dollars' worth of regular in the Volkswagen and spun off, mildly.       My voices always tell me when it's time to move, and where.     Domino Mother and son are playing dominoes on the floor in the cool of a bright late autumn afternoon, upstairs of the little country house they live in. It is very intent, like the eucalyptus. Two cats, male and female, turn and jell on the patchwork Vermont bedspread. This is northern California. Every ten minutes or so, one of the players shouts out "Domino!"     Moon People Two blue figures synchronized to move toward a blurred point across the barest space imaginable -- will they make it?     Star Motel Inside I could hear a party of people, the aimless cars and in the middle distance inexorable murmurs of the ice machines.     From a Childhood #101 "You think the world revolves around you." I do. Therefore, it does. Had there been a piano in that room, I would have studied it.     Mother's Mother a photograph of my mother's mother aged about 22 delicate oval face cocked to one side her light-colored hair tied back in a kind of bun bright steady eyes on the back she wrote: "Your little wife Helen Dec. 3, 1883 In summer or winter weather Happiness means to be together" then "Married to Clay Lambert Aug. 9, 1883 Photo taken Dec. 1883" then "Your mother When she was young --"     Bubbles I was a bathing beauty in The American Venus . My dream of becoming a great dancer: How sweet he was then, a brilliant, laughing young man of the world, his heart so tender: "Get married!" I cried, bursting into fresh black tears. Glittering white sequins: I put no value on my beauty. Somedays I thought I would run away from Hollywood forever -- to Miami to Havana to Palm Beach to Washington, D.C., no less! Now we are in the air, warriors of the sky, burning the beans and Wanted for Murder: No rehearsal, no retakes: His actors cry real tears: He wanted Dick to cry too and Dick was not a spontaneous weeper: Breaking out of his grasp, I grabbed a shotgun and killed him with dramatic swiftness. That developed his character: Stars shimmering by beasts in the black sky: His jaw muscles hunched closer to deliver his monolog: "You're a lousy actress and your eyes are too close together." I shoved him away, saying "Are you trying to make love to me?" "Why not?" he said furiously, jumping up and backing away to the door to make his exit. "You go to bed with everyone else -- why not me?"     Poem cutting brush with a machete left eye white cornea gets poked by twig that was haste now abrasion seen by doc who treats eye-patch on and codeine in codeine trips the psyche home to daybed stretch sentences that might be catchy slip behind slow swirls magenta green left eye watches patched sea sky flakes magenta green bird-size fruit flies slice hotdog dinner right eye salted watches sundown then "One Day at a Time"     Two Days 1. Today is unsurpassed. Rain in winter's jowl, People in ponchos slogging through elephant fog. "Your phone." "Don't I know it." And somewhere out there a misplaced fire poker gathers rust. Here air, there water. Formality unbidden spreads edgewise or else completed a quarter-mile up where vines creep and pry into bathroom boards. The grass grows. 2. "Glass of retsina at Bill's ..." Fake dreams, reddened heat orb. A word for the day abstains, a trick mending. Pup gets bumpered, limps away. Something we could do together, not sure what, sitting and talking, aimless, adroit. A day for obstinate, day for construe, day the color and duration of a line by Jimmy Schuyler in the anthology which says "I have nothing to say" and stays bright and cold. Voyage from Jericho       for Steve Emerson Tying laces baby brown moccasins Moses wants another strawberry His lucky day, letter to Alaska Set to mushing, Clover Lane Our man in Anchorage, down chute in thaw To bound and boo in heavy mountain cloud Dishtowel bib face chortles prime for nap Elsewhere's codeine, grazed harmonics, empty pipe Swish, swiveling Alaska, land of land of sea "Ready to dig a hole and get in it"     Familiar Music A pair of dark blue panties among hairbrushes.     Poem Old lady peering into her P.O. box -- pink sweater, plaid skirt, wire-rimmed granny glasses -- muttering "Harry ... Harry ... Harry ..."     Baby's Awake Now And now there is the lively sound Of a panel truck heading due southwest Along Elm Road, edge of dusk -- The densest light to see to drive by. The underbrush has brown fringe And small silent birds. I saw the rainbow fire. I saw the need to talk. I saw a unicorn and a red pony. And I didn't want any deviled eggs. I drove home with my collar up. We're alive. You do alarm me to the fact. The light is on the window in the air, And breath comes faster than the hounds To sanction what remembered, what stuck.     Duchamp Dream Marcel Duchamp and I are collaborating on a giant wall painting. Duchamp's part in this work consists of a talking portrait of himself -- a profile which appears at the center of a brightly colored rectangle on the white wall. Using a long stick to push the colors around, I demonstrate the niceties of the composition to a large audience standing in semicircle around me. "You see," I say, "we (Duchamp and I) are much the same -- but mostly at the edges!" Now the righthand edge of the rectangle explodes in a flashing white light which then "bleeds" into a field of dazzling pellucid orange. The room during this phase of the work has been almost totally in the dark -- the only light source being the painting itself -- its colors illumined from the inside. Now the room lights up and I am painting the four walls, running back and forth like crazy with my stick. In one corner I draw a huge black gorilla figure and pivoting to face the next long wall, I trace a black line punctuated with a thick gob of paint which sticks out like a fist. I pause, sensing this work is "a great success."     Dream with Fred Astaire I'm in a large movie theater. I go to the john. Standing at one of the urinals next to me is Fred Astaire. He zips up his pants and says "I'm a loser!" I look deep into his sunglasses, their mirrored lenses, and I say "Oh you're doing alright!" He is visibly moved by the open-hearted and believable way I say this.     Selected Dreams     At the airport with dark glasses.     Writing a master's thesis on the city of Nice.     A duel with electric irons as weapons.     Meeting Stuart Perkoff.     The Celeste Holm Sisters.     Anti-Poem dust from windbag clots days the human brain scatters mostly in a dry haze over hill and sky and love's colors hardly distinguishable from hay fever sift thus in a dream I carry a white bucket of shit and water spilling some solid matter into my vest pocket and the villain played by Victor Jory primps and makes obscene remarks whereupon I bop his long bony nose to a bloody pulp -- a fine moment of anti-philosophy perhaps but in the morning you are strange Copyright © 2000 Bill Berkson. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Basisp. 3
Cnidus, August 4thp. 4
Dominop. 5
Moon Peoplep. 6
Star Motelp. 7
From a Childhood #101p. 8
Mother's Motherp. 9
Bubblesp. 10
Poem ("cutting brush...")p. 11
Two Daysp. 12
Voyage from Jerichop. 13
Familiar Musicp. 14
Poem ("Old lady peering...")p. 15
Baby's Awake Nowp. 16
Duchamp Dreamp. 17
Dream with Fred Astairep. 18
Selected Dreamsp. 19
Anti-Poemp. 20
To Lynnp. 22
"Lynn is putting..."p. 23
"old buttermilk sky"p. 24
Fourth Street, San Rafaelp. 25
To Marie Cosindasp. 26
Tint Guardp. 27
Don't Knock Itp. 28
Slow Curve, Hampton Roadp. 29
Empire Edgep. 30
"Entraining to Southampton"p. 31
Loreleip. 33
An Atlantic Doorp. 41
On Icep. 42
Drillp. 43
Try Againp. 44
After Youp. 45
Ocean and Grovep. 46
Burckhardt's Ninthp. 47
Staminap. 48
Annus Mirabilisp. 49
From Whence It Camep. 50
After 99 Comes 100p. 51
First Turnsp. 52
Sourcep. 53
Stopping Is Nothingp. 54
Serious Momentp. 55
You Sure Do Some Nice Thingsp. 56
Poem ("How can equivocation happen...")p. 57
Dark Middlep. 58
You Know What Crazy Is?p. 59
"Power goes off"p. 60
Instinctp. 61
End-of-Century Thrushp. 62
"The Hoole Book"p. 64
No Claim to the Puzzlep. 66
Algebrap. 67
Red Devilp. 68
11:59p. 69
Start Overp. 73
Broom Genealogyp. 101
If I Pray to Anyone It Is to Youp. 103
On the High Windowp. 104
Space Dreamp. 105
Young Manhattanp. 106
15 1/2/34p. 107
Provincetown Lightp. 108
Missingp. 109
Missing (2)p. 111
A Fixturep. 113
The Positionp. 114
Chaloffp. 115
Odep. 117
Chocolate Chocolate Chipp. 120
Under a Cloud and After the Wavesp. 121
Night Straitsp. 122
At the Skinp. 123
Chasing the Slipp. 124
Serenadep. 125