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The Sonnets

The Sonnets

by Ted Berrigan

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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


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 1960's as well as timeless poetic themes, The Sonnets is both eclectic and classical — the poems are monumental riddles worth contemplating.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.
From the Publisher
The Sonnets are an enduring benchmark in mid-20th-century American poetics. Intimate, endlessly inventive, they make an extraordinary manifest of that time and all its habits of person and place. They are without question a great literary artifact but they are also the unique presence of our human world — just yesterday, as one says, and now forever and ever. Alice Notley has done a consummate job of editing and her notes and introduction are an excellent resource for all present-day poets and readers alike”
— Robert Creeley

“One of the most significant works of twentieth-century American poetry, Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets remains as present and perspicacious as it was when it first appeared in the world almost forty years ago. Its vivacity remains unabashed, its momentum remains undeterred. It is a work in time about time’s inability to stop life. The Sonnets denies nothing; it acknowledges fear and tragedy; it discovers hilarity and speaks of beauty and of love. It encompasses plenitude; it is great.”
— Lyn Heinian

“Even though out of print for much of the last third of the 20th century, Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets has inspired and influenced several generations of poets. Its present reissue in a definitive, annotated form is a major event in Anglophone literature. Its playful range of verbal pyrotechnics serves to convey a unique sensibility, sense of humor, strength of feeling. The Sonnets is a modern (or, if you wish, postmodern) classic, an exemplary source book for innovative writing strategies. Dazzling but not faddish, solid but not solemn, The Sonnets is poetry that gives you things to think about, and to think about again. And again.”
— Anselm Hollo

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Penguin Poets
Sold by:
Penguin Group
File size:
333 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


His piercing pince-nez. Some dim frieze
Hands point to a dim frieze, in the dark night.
In the book of his music the corners have straightened:
Which owe their presence to our sleeping hands.
The ox-blood from the hands which play
For fire for warmth for hands for growth
Is there room in the room that you room in?
Upon his structured tomb:
Still they mean something. For the dance
And the architecture.
Weave among incidents
May be portentous to him
We are the sleeping fragments of his sky,
Wind giving presence to fragments.


Dear Margie, hello. It is 5:15 a.m.
dear Berrigan. He died
Back to books. I read
It's 8:30 p.m. in New York and I've been running around all day
old come-all-ye's streel into the streets. Yes, it is now,
How Much Longer Shall I Be Able To Inhabit The Divine
and the day is bright gray turning green
feminine marvelous and tough
watching the sun come up over the Navy Yard
to write scotch-tape body in a notebook
had 17 and 1/2 milligrams
Dear Margie, hello. It is 5:15 a.m.
fucked til 7 now she's late to work and I'm
18 so why are my hands shaking I should know better


Stronger than alcohol, more great than song,
deep in whose reeds great elephants decay;
I, an island, sail, and my shores toss
on a fragrant evening, fraught with sadness
bristling hate.
It's true, I weep too much.Dawns break
slow kisses on the eyelids of the sea,
what other men sometimes have thought they've seen.
And since then I've been bathing in the poem
lifting her shadowy flowers up for me,
and hurled by hurricanes to a birdless place
the waving flags, nor pass by prison ships
O let me burst, and I be lost at sea!
and fall on my knees then, womanly.


Lord, it is time. Summer was very great.
All sweetly spoke to her of me
about your feet, so delicate, and yet double E!!
And high upon the Brooklyn Bridge alone,
to breathe an old woman slop oatmeal,
loveliness that longs for butterfly! There is no pad
as you lope across the trails and bosky dells
I often think sweet and sour pork"
shoe repair, and scary. In cities,
I strain to gather my absurdities
He buckled on his gun, the one
Poised like Nijinsky
at every hand, my critic
and when I stand and clank it gives me shoes


Squawking a gala occasion, forgetting, and
"Hawkaaaaaaaaaat" Once I went scouting
As stars are, like nightmares, a crucifix.
Why can't I read French? I don't know why can't you?
Rather the matter of growth
My babies parade waving their innocent flags
Huddled on the structured steps
Flinging currents into pouring streams
The "jeunes filles" so rare.
He wanted to know the names
He liked boys, never had a mother
Meanwhile, terrific misnomers went concocted, ayearning,
The Pure No Nonsense
And all day: Perceval! Perceval!


The bulbs burn phosphorescent, white
Your hair moves slightly,
Tenseness, but strength, outward
And the green rug nestled against the furnace
Dust had covered all the tacks, the hammer
... optimism for the jump ...
The taste of such delicate thoughts
Never bring the dawn.
The bulbs burn, phosphorescent, white,
Melting the billowing snow with wine:
Could the mind turn jade? everything
Turning in this light, to stones,
Ash, bark like cork, a fading dust,
To cover the tracks of "The Hammer."


Whenever Richard Gallup is dissevered,
Fathers and teachers, and daemons down under the sea,
Audenesque Epithalamiums! She
Sends her driver home and she stays with me.

Match-Game etcetera! Bootleggers
Barrel-assing chevrolets grow bold. I summon
To myself sad silent thoughts,
Opulent, sinister, and cold.

Shall it be male or female in the tub?
And grawk go under, and grackle disappear,
And high upon the Brooklyn Bridge alone,
An ugly ogre masturbates by ear:

Of my darling, my darling, my pipe and my slippers,
Something there is is benzedrine in bed:
And so, so Asiatic, Richard Gallup
Goes home, and gets his gat, and plugs his dad.


She comes as in a dream with west wind eggs,
bringing Huitzilopochtli hot possets:
Snakeskins! But I am young, just old enough
to breathe, an old woman, slop oatmeal,
lemongrass, dewlarks, full draught of, fall thud.

Lady of the May, thou art fair,
Lady, thou art truly fair! Children,
When they see your face,
Sing in idiom of disgrace.

Pale like an ancient scarf, she is unadorned,
bouncing a red rubber ball in the veins.
The singer sleeps in Cos. Strange juxtaposed
the phantom sings: Bring me red demented rooms,
warm and delicate words! Swollen as if new-out-of-bed
Huitzilopochtli goes his dithyrambic way,
quick-shot, resuscitate, all roar!


My babies parade waving their innocent flags
an unpublished philosopher, a man who must
column after column down colonnade of rust
in my paintings, for they are present
I am wary of the mulctings of the pink promenade,
went in the other direction to Tulsa,
glistering, bristling, cozening whatever disguises
S of Christmas John Wayne will clown with
Dreams, aspirations of presence! Innocence gleaned,
annealed! The world in its mysteries are explained,
and the struggles of babies congeal. A hard core is formed.
"I wanted to be a cowboy." Doughboy will do.
Romance of it all was overwhelming
daylight of itself dissolving and of course it rained.


He eats of the fruits of the great Speckle
Bird, pissing in the grass! Is it possible
He is incomplete, bringing you Ginger Ale
Of the interminably frolicsome gushing summer showers?
You were a Campfire Girl,
Only a part-time mother and father; I
Was large, stern, acrid, and undissuadable!
Ah, Bernie, we wear complete
The indexed Webster Unabridged Dictionary.
And lunch is not lacking, ants and clover
On the grass. To think of you alone
Suffering the poem of these states!
Oh Lord, it is bosky, giggling happy here,
And you, and me, the juice, at last extinct!

Red-faced and romping in the wind
I too am reading the technical journals, but
Keeping Christmas-safe each city block
With tail-pin. My angels are losing patience,
Never win. Except at night. Then
I would like a silken thread
Tied round the solid blooming winter.
Trees stand stark-naked guarding bridal paths;
The cooling wind keeps blowing, and
There is a faint chance in geometric boxes!
It doesn't matter, though, to show he is
Your champion. Days are nursed on science fiction
And you tremble at the books upon the earth
As my strength and I walk out and look for you.


On the green a white boy goes
And he walks. Three ciphers and a faint fakir
No One Two Three Four Today
I thought about all those radio waves
Winds flip down the dark path of breath
Passage the treasure Gomangani I
Forget bring the green boy white ways
And the wind goes there
Keats was a baiter of bears
Who died of lust (You lie! You lie!)
As so we all must in the green jungle
Under a sky of burnt umber we bumble to
The mien florist's to buy green nosegays
For the fey Saint's parade Today
We may read about all those radio waves


Meet the Author

Ted Berrigan, poetic and inspiratinal genius of the second generation of the New York School Poets, was born in Providence, Rhode Isalnd, on November 15, 1934. He was educated at La Salle Academy in Providence and, after sixteen months in Korea as a soldier, at the University of Tulsa (on the GI Bill). During the 1960's he lived in New York's Lower East Side, writing city poems, publishing the exciting and unique "C" Magazine and "C" Press books, writing art criticism, and playing leader to a group of young poets and appreciators of poetry. Later he was Writer In Residence, Lecturer, Teaching Fellow, etc. at such places as The Writers Workshop (University of Iowa), the University of Essex (England), Northeastern Illinois University (Chicago), and the Naropa Institute. In the mid-1970s he returned to the Lower East Side, teaching at Stevens Institute of Technology and the City College of New York, giving poetry readings everywhere, and influencing a new generation of poets. His many books include the major sequence The Sonnets, a central collection So Going Around Cities, several collaborative books with other poets, long poems, a novel, and interviews. In a curriculum vitae from 1982, he described himself as "modestly venerable, large, traditional in appearance. Resemble Apollinaire (w/beard) or bear disguised as GBS … Formidable, affable, durable …" He died on July 4, 1983.
Alice Notley is a poet whose twenty previous titles include The Descent of Alette, Beginning with a Stain, Homer's Art, and Selected Poems. She wrote the introduction for her late first husband Ted Berrigan's Selected Poems. She lives in Paris.

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