"Entrances & Exits"

introduction to a reading by poet Anselm Berrigan

Tom Devaney, Program Coordinator at the Kelly Writers House
February 18, 2002

Anselm Berrigan is one of my favorite poets. The strength, surprise, emotional range of his work is significant. His poetry is immediate and feels first-hand even when he tells us otherwise. He writes, "I sit down calmly in someone else's recliner/Wearing someone else's shirt, pants, shoes and socks/Though I've torn my own holes into all of them."

In Berrigan's more recent poems rapid and largely unforced associations often hit you with their velocity, like a sheet of sound, or sometimes just like an old sheet. The record of handling and being handled by objects, color, weather, feelings, memory, death, autobiography, gossip, intelligence, humor, language, sports, and politics are all in the poems—and sometime all in one poem.

Can the poetry be excessive? Yes. The work is often excessive and a response to excessiveness. Anselm writes, "My ear is officially off." But he and the work continue.

Anselm puts the world of aesthetic, social, political trouble all into his poems. Unlike much of contemporary poetry, which strikes me as radically allegorical many of Anselm's poems strike me as astonishingly literal. He writes, "the original of this poem is available of $5,000….I'm broke but make more than my parents did when they were my age."

All of this does little to explain why some of the poems, and parts of the poems, are so beautiful and moving: in short, so mightily convincing.

When Charlie Chaplin was asked to describe his life in the theater he replied, "entrances and exits." Anselm's poetry provides entrances into real confusion and exits from false clarity; He writes, "if you don't understand/don't be ashamed to ask three times/the answer is TIGHT-LIPPED." The poetry provides entrances that open and exits that open! Anselm continually reminds me of all that poems can be and do, all that can happen between an entrance and an exit.