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BERRIGAN, TED (1934-1983) One of the central figures in the second generation of the new york school of poetry, Ted Berrigan absorbed influences from his predecessors, such as John ashbery and Frank o'hara, but transformed what he learned into some of the most delicately modulated poems of his generation. Works from The Sonnets (1964) to "Things To Do in Providence" (1970) to the late lyrical poems, such as those collected in A Certain Slant of Sunlight (1988), exhibit a subtle and graceful manipulation of tone that few of his contemporaries could approach. Berrigan was an important teacher of poets as well, and his collected talks about poetry, On the Level Everyday (1997), remains an important text for younger writers.
Born into a working-class family, Berrigan grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. He enlisted in the army, served in Korea, and was stationed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he met the poet Ron padgett, then a high-school student, who would later be closely associated with him in the New York school. Married to the poet Alice not-ley, he was the father of Anselm and Edmund Berrigan, both recognized as important younger poets today. In 1963 Berrigan founded "C" Press, which published both the journal "C" and a series of mimeographed books by Padgett and other New York poets of their generation. Berrigan taught at numerous colleges and universities, including Yale, the University of Michigan, and the City University of New York.
Berrigan's Sonnets are a collage of lines, some borrowed from his readings. The same set of words—even something as plain and straightforward as "Dear Chris, hello"—appear in various contexts, each time given a different intonation and emphasis. The perfect control of cadence and tone exemplified in these early poems became Berrigan's trademark in a wide range of writing, from his minimalist works in the late 1960s to the more traditional lyric poems written toward the end of his life (see lyric poetry). Among these, "Red Shift" (1980) is generally considered to be his major achievement. A defense of poetry as the prime speech of civi lization, it ends famously with the line, "The world's furious song flows through my costume."
"The world's furious song" as it passed through Berrigan's voice has become the measure against which younger poets, especially those associated with the New York school, continue to calibrate their own work. With the possible exception of Jack spicer, no avant-garde American writer of Berrigan's generation achieved so much both as a poet and as a teacher, and as a defender of his art.
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