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This review is taken from PN Review 200, Volume 37 Number 6, June - July 2011.

MESSY RED HEART The Selected Poems of Ted Berrigan, edited by Alice Notley, Anselm Berrigan and Edmund Berrigan (University of California Press) $24.95.

Although it is not one of his most challenging poems, '10 Things I Do Every Day' is one of Ted Berrigan's most quoted. It reads:

wake up
smoke pot
see the cat
love my wife
think of Frank

eat lunch
make noises
sing songs
go out
dig the streets

go home for dinner
read the Post
make pee-pee
two kids
grin

read books
see my friends
get pissed-off
have a Pepsi
disappear

How to take this poet seriously? The poem almost asks its reader not to, as the speaker presents himself as flippant ('see the cat'), high ('smoke pot', 'get pissed-off'), immature ('make noises', 'make pee-pee') and - if that weren't enough - disappearing. The poem also highlights the ways Berrigan's poetry can be read: it aims to pay tribute to Frank O'Hara, it is entrenched in the quotidian (cause and effect of that tribute), it was written from the constraints of urban space, it is at once personal and evasive, and it often seems haphazardly casual - easily taken, like O'Hara's, as heart-to-heart art ('My heart Your heart' Berrigan writes in 'London Air'). But there are poetic programmes in Berrigan's work that have been difficult to discern because of the sheer number of pages he wrote (his Collected Poems take up 663).

At once reflecting that 'Everyone has ...


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