Code Unknown: Tutelage (Old Standbys)
Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. They listen so much that they forget to be natural. This is a nice story.
—Gertrude Stein, “Reflections on the Atom Bomb," 1946
One night a kid was thinking
It hit him like a rock––
Poetry, poetry, poetry.
Meaning is a peculiar thing in poetry—as peculiar as meaning in politics or loving. In writing poetry a poet can hardly say that he knows what he means. In writing he is more intimately concerned with holding together a poem, and that is for him its meaning.
Poetry should be something real, not just an interesting lie to tell your mother.
When Poetry meets Painting one begins to wonder about Art.
—Ted Berrigan and Bill Berkson (by telephone circa 1982)
Painting is never anything but a construction in ethics.
—Charles Baudelaire, “Salon of 1846”
For such things as we all know are done and not said—indeed not saying them is a necessary condition for their being done.
—Leonardo Sciascia, The Moro Affair
Abstract emotion is when you wake up in the morning and feel happy for no reason.
I could learn a lot from a pile of Nixon under a stoop.
So many lousy poets
So few good ones
What’s the problem?
No innate love of
Words, no sense of
How the thing said
Is in the words, how
The words are themselves
The thing said: love,
Mistake, promise, auto
Crack-up, color, petal,
The color in the petal
Is merely light
And that’s refraction:
A word, that’s the poem.
A blackish-red nasturtium …..
—James Schuyler, from “The Morning of the Poem”
What kind of thing is that for a grown man to be doing?
—Alex Katz on Morton Feldman
Every time you humans encounter a structure you don't understand you call it a thing.
—Mr. Spock, Star Trek
….childhood perfected and sustained.
—Guy Davenport on Charles Baudelaire
Consider our derivation from our immediate past of a quarter of a second ago. We are continuous with it, the same as it, prolonging its affective tone, enjoying its data…. This is the mystery of personal identity, the mystery of the immanence of the past in the present.
—Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought
Art is either complaint or appeasement.
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
—Frederick Douglas (as if apropos 1968 et passim)
…. the calculated production of uncertainty.
—Adam Phillips on flirtation
When did the dumb bunny bomb first hit USA?
The only truth is face to face.
—Frank O’Hara, “Ode: Salute to the French Negro Poets”
for with regret I leave the lovely world men made
despite their bad character their art is mild
—Edwin Denby, "Ciampino: Envoi," Mediterranean Cities
It’s as if the language wants to say this.
To be right is the most terrific personal state that no one is interested in.
—Frank O’Hara, “Franz Kline Talking”
Which is a fact.
—Gertrude Stein, Four Saints in Three Acts
Born in New York in 1939, Bill Berkson was a poet, critic, teacher and sometime curator, who became active in the art and literary worlds in his early twenties. He was professor emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute, where, between 1984 and 2008, he taught art history, art writing...