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five previously unpublished drawings by renowned artist and author