Tuesday, July 24, 2007


POCKETS OF WHEAT by Geoffrey Young
TED by Ron Padgett
OVER NINE WAVES by Marie Heaney

Just finished these three books, which I had mostly read before, one way or another, and all are terrific in their own ways.

I’ve written before about Geoffrey Young’s poetry, and quoted from it, and recommended it, especially his sort-of-selected-poems LIGHTS OUT, which contained some poems from the original printing of POCKETS OF WHEAT back in 1996.

This new edition of POCKETS OF WHEAT includes several more drawings by James Siena, which in person are huge (60” x 40”) but here reduced to around 5”x3” to fit the format of the book.

Geoff’s poems are always brilliant, often poignant, and sometimes hilarious. Like the poem that opens this collection, one of his most famous:


I hear
from my

on the
back of
my checks

Geoff had a press for years called The Figures, which published some important books, including Ron Padgett’s “Personal Memoir of Ted Berrigan”—TED, in 1993.

I read Aram Saroyan’s copy at his place in Thousand Oaks, California, back when it first came out. But that first reading was all about me, in my mind, about the way I knew Ted and understood him compared to the way Padgett did.

My background and upbringing was much more similar to Ted’s than Ron’s was, but Ron knew him longer.

Like me, Ted came from an East Coast, working-class, Irish-American background, served in the Armed Forces and went to college on the G. I. Bill. He was also a lover of words and a compulsive reader, among other compulsions we shared.

Ron was in high school and Ted in college when they met. Ron’s later wife was Ted’s girlfriend when they met. They moved to Manhattan around the same time and sometimes shared apartments. They wrote poems together, and their individual poems had a big impact on the New York poetry scene of the 1960s and ‘70s.

This memoir, published a decade after Ted’s untimely death at forty-eight, is written in a spare, almost notational style that not only suits the subject but Padgett’s perspective on him, which is sometimes highly critical, almost angry.

Part of that he addresses himself a few times in the course of the book. And it’s balanced by affectionate anecdotes that capture what made Ted so uniquely lovable.

And part of it is just the usual thing we humans do when talking about others, publicly or privately, we make assumptions, or at least I certainly have and most people I’ve read and listened to have too, that other people are like us, and therefore when they deviate from our norm they are abnormal.

For most of my early adult life I truly believed, for instance, that everyone was as full of as much lust and sensual desire as I was, to the point of viewing almost everything through the prism of that desire.

I sincerely believed that if others weren’t expressing their lust or that they were driven by their sexual and sensual passion, they were lying. It was only as I aged and learned from experience that humans are often as unalike as they are similar that I began to understand that not everyone was hiding an inner me inside.

The reason I mention all that is that Padgett uses some amateur psychology to diagnose Ted’s reading habits as “compulsive” and an obvious “escape” from the realities of his childhood and later his adult life.

Being a compulsive reader and writer throughout my life, and still, I understand the grain of truth in Padgett’s perspective, but I also understand that that’s just the way my particular mental metabolism works, that I need to be reading many books all the time to satisfy the curiosity in my brain about what’s in them, and how others perceive things and
to feel I am having a dialogue with other minds that are capable of comprehending mine.

Why this would be considered “escaping,” while concentrating on a single book read more slowly, or devoting more time to teaching or talking to others etc. is less of an escape (and from what exactly? Life? Isn’t the activity of reading as much a sign of life as breathing or running or talking on the phone, etc.?) escapes me!

But let me leave you with one entire chapter, 15, from TED as an example of how honest Padgett is trying to be, and how succinct and precise his choice of words is, with his usual lack of pretension or condescension:

“It distresses me to think I’m writing a lot of bad things about Ted. Why are they the first things that come to mind? Because I still feel some resentment toward him? Resentment for the way he treated himself, for the way he died and left us?
Ted, I loved you.”

OVER NINE WAVES is Marie Healey’s selection and interpretation of “Irish Legends”—some well-known, some not so.

Most translations, or interpretations, or retelling of these stories that I have been hearing and reading since I was a boy, are so turgid or detailed they read like sections of the Bible that are little more than boring records of who begat whom, only in THE TAIN, and other versions of ancient Irish classic tales, it’s more like lists of what the hero wore, or a list of Gaelic names and terms that no ordinary reader could possibly comprehend.

So Healey does a service by judicious editing and use of accessible terms, making her retelling of many of these famous stories much simpler and easier to understand.

I thank my friend, the poet Ray DiPalma for passing it on to me, as I do my friend, Geoff Young for giving me a copy of Ron Padgett’s TED, as well as his own POCKETS OF WHEAT.

And if the fact that these people are my friends (I’ve known Ron Padgett for decades as well) makes you assume that’s why I‘m recommending these books, you don’t know me very well.

I used to assume that when people praised the work of those they knew it was because they were their friends, and often that may be, but just as often it is the other way around, they became friends because they dug each other’s work and the talent that produced it.

Check out one or all of these books and you tell me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After reading there is a bio of Ted written by his friend Ron, I went over to Amazon to order the book. I also read the provided excerpt. Considering that Ron labelled Ted's reading habit as "compulsive and escapist," I was somewhat surprised to learn that it was while Ron was working in a bookstore, that he had occasion to meet Ted! Oh, the irony.