Steve Evans

by Bill Berkson

This ample, handsome, and invaluable collection catches Berkson at his rhythmically impeccable best, a serene master of the syntactical sleight and transformer of the mundane into the marvelous. In dreams indistinguishable from learned discourses, domestic scenes charted with patient hilarity, memory pieces that hone in with uncanny precision on just such details as unsettle the mind's fictive presence, Berkson's pace keeps a "no rehearsal, no retakes" immediacy that like an Astaire dance sequence only reveals its artifice through the total, and totally implausible, 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 chuyler's "Hymn to Life" as the past quarter-century has produced), the poems gathered here have a windfall coherence that lasts only as long as it must, then collapses back into the agrammatical mess of sensation from which it arose: "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, 1975-1989, these works will no doubt be read as further evidence of the aesthetic cross-fertilization between "late" New York School and emergent language-centered writers that made the period such a productive one for the American avant-garde. But such documentary value far from exhausts the jubilant contemporaneity and dazzling verbal wit of this volume where "anyone can anything anytime."

Accompanying the poems of Serenade are five previously unpublished drawings by renowned artist and author Joe Brainard.