Poetry News

Coldfront Covers Berrigan's Irrelevance

By Harriet Staff


Nick Sturm offers some notes on Anselm Berrigan's Notes From Irrelevance over at Coldfront today, writing that Berrigan's latest is "a 65-page stanza with lines between two and seven words in length, the result of which is a continual column of language." Continual columns of language—we love them! More from Sturm:

Berrigan makes clear from the beginning that he’s not interested in entertaining a passive reader. The flux between the languages of consumerism (“termination fee”), popular culture (“a lazy fly to center”), and an altered literary theory (“objective fallacy” echos “affective fallacy”), all colored in a quasi-heroic tone of spiritual transformation and historical renewal, creates a cultural and emotional texture that absorbs attention as much as it immediately reverberates back through the book’s title, making one just as aware of the book in their hands as the neo-capitalist culture it is a product of and reaction to. But in this flux a valenced clarity emerges in which the speaker, plagued by tension between internal and external demands, is frustrated with his inability to act despite his resolve (he is both “armed” and “armless”), and some vision, some cumulative moment, has revealed “evidence of the life / I was meant to lead.”

Berrigan’s manipulation of sentence structure and the poem’s barrages of erratic lyricism mixed with direct statement make this book a welcome challenge. It can be read casually, and the book provides enough anchors to do so, but for the reader who wants to truly meet Berrigan in this book, one needs to be physically, intellectually, and vocally active. I did not feel like I was living up to the potential this book engenders until I read it out loud, alone, walking around my house, from start to finish. Notes From Irrelevance is an experience in, or at the very least an approximation of, occupying Berrigan’s head, a space that instills a sense of profound artistic and political urgency as well as uncompromising personal judgment. The poem flows seamlessly between extended threads of thought on what it means to be a poet, father, husband, and citizen, into narrative digressions, recognition of paradox, moments of brave confession, and the rupture of skillfully constructed rants, all propelled by the belief that “I do not trust / the sanity of my vessel, / nor that of metaphor.” Berrigan is not attempting to unite the world around him–an impossible task–but rather to acknowledge the ontological fissures that plague and define his always moving “I”

Sturm goes on to conduct more close readings to bring the book into focus. Head over to Coldfront for the rest.

Originally Published: February 5th, 2013