Originally published in 1964, The Sonnets by Ted Berrigan is considered by many to be his most important and influential book. This new annotated edition, with an introduction by Alice Notley, includes seven previously uncollected works. Like Shakespeare's sonnets, Berrigan's poems involve friendship and love triangles, but while the former happen chronologically, Berrigan's happen in the moment, with the story buried beneath a surface of names, repetitions, and fragmented experience. Reflecting the new American sensibilities of the 1960s as well as timeless poetic themes, The Sonnets is both eclectic and classical - the poems are monumental riddles worth contemplating.
The sonnet, in Berrigan's hands (and scissors), was as much an arbitrary frame for experience as a traditional form. In her introduction and notes to this fifth and definitive printing of her late first husband's 1963 collage masterpiece, poet Alice Notley makes a persuasive case for the philosophical and art-historical grounding of these poems. On now greatly facilitated rereading, however, they remain first and foremost wonderful poetry. Berrigan's "sonnets" (conventional almost exclusively in their line count) were put together using a plethora of now-famous techniques: frame-breaking jump cuts, lines and phrases transposed from poem to poem and line to line, sound-based translations from French (and English), and simply beautiful writing. These methods, some lifted from John Ashbery's The Tennis Court Oath, are put in the service of plotlines both poignant and surly, and details hilarious and sensuous: "I think I was thinking when I was/ ahead I'd be somewhere like Perry street erudite/ dazzling slim and badly loved/ contemplating my new book of poems/ to be printed in simple type on old brown paper/ feminine marvelous and tough." The sonnet's customary pithy closing couplet is here converted into the detached, calm endings of modern poems and short stories. And the volta, or the rhetorical turn that characterizes Shakespeare's sonnets, isn't fixed at the beginning of the ninth line, as befits a poetry influenced (as Notley notes) by Whitehead's theory of time. This edition includes seven previously uncollected sonnets; these, with Notley's commentary, make this an indispensable addition to any poetry library. One hopes it will alert publishers to the need for a Collected Berrigan, and introduce new readers to a midcentury classic. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.