Ted Berrigan – The Sonnets (1964)


“Since its original publication in 1964, Ted Berrigan’s first book of poetry, The Sonnets, has been considered a major aesthetic statement of both the New York School and 20th century American poetry as a whole, drawing on the influence of first-generation New York School poets (specifically John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, and Kenneth Koch), the compositional techniques of John Cage, the philosophies of Alfred North Whitehead, and, through the use of a time-tested poetic form, the works of sonneteers ranging from William Shakespeare to Edwin Denby. To describe The Sonnets as a ‘sonnet sequence’ would be only partially accurate. The book begins with ‘Sonnet I’ and proceeds numerically to its conclusion with ‘Sonnet LXXXVIII,’ with a few ‘numbers’ omitted and a few poems straying from the fourteen-line form. A sequence, however, implies succession: an order of one poem following another in time and/or space.The poems of Berrigan’s The Sonnets appear in succession but do not exist in succession. Instead, the seventy-eight poems of The Sonnets exist simultaneously, escaping the laws of time by conquering these laws through Berrigan’s well-planned techniques of repetition, rearrangement, and the use of ‘found’ phrases and text. These techniques and strategies provide the reader with a unique and disorienting experience by presenting a new understanding of poetry, possibility, and time. In a 1968 review of The Sonnets, John Ashbery writes, ‘They feel like what tomorrow is going to be like’ (Ashbery 117). Ashbery’s review is an essential piece of criticism: Ashbery was not only at the forefront of the first-generation of New York School poets, but his 1962 collection The Tennis Court Oath had a considerable influence on Berrigan’s approach to The Sonnets. Ashbery’s quote portrays the immense power and control Berrigan possesses over time’s operations in The Sonnets. … In her introduction to The Sonnets, Ted Berrigan’s widow Alice Notley builds upon Ashbery’s notion by stating that, ‘One of its themes is time, the incorporation of the past into the present becoming the future, and so each sonnet seems to have invisible arrows pointing out from it backwards, forwards, and sideways too, creating a long complex moment that certain manuscripts of Ted’s tell us is most literally the spring of 1963’ (Berrigan, Sonnets v). …”
Jacket2 – “Time And Time Again”: The Strategy of Simultaneity in Ted Berrigan’s «The Sonnets»
Jacket2 – 1968 Ted Berrigan reading as recorded by Robert Creeley (Audio)
Google – The Sonnets
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YouTube: Ted Berrigan – Sonnet LXXVI

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