Buffalo Small Press Poetry presents: Anselm Berrigan & Dorothea Lasky
by Steven Zultanski
Buffalo Small Press Poetry presents
Anselm Berrigan and Dorothea Lasky each have their own Wikipedia page. Despite publishing their books on small presses and reading in bars and local bookstores, these poets’ work travels beyond the usual audience for poetry and captures the attention of curious onlookers.
Both write extremely playful explorations of a quasi-confessional mode, though it’s difficult to know what exactly is being confessed, or if the confession is true. As Berrigan writes, “A language poet trapped/in a confessional poet’s body/I never felt so much alike.”
A long-time director the St. Marks Poetry Project, Berrigan has absorbed a multiplicity of influences, and his works rings with Beat, New York School, and language poetry tendencies. His lines are often offhandedly colloquial, mixing casual speech and pop-culture reference with formal experimentation. All three of his books—Integrity & Dramatic Life, Zero Star Hotel, and Some Notes on My Programming—interrogate a variety of forms and processes, but always with a distinctive, dry sense of humor. Even in a poem like “Zero Star Hotel,” dedicated to the late poet Douglas Oliver, Berrigan manages to combine an ear for everyday detail with a sense of the expressive:
I get people drunk
and make them talk
why I’m perceived
as having good character
is way beyond me
unless I’m wrong
or character is really
another word for image
and blown out heels
Dorothea Lasky, on the other hand, more explicitly writes about herself, but in a tricky fashion in which the author can never really be pinned down. Her first book, Awe, out last year on Wave Books, has earned rave reviews for it’s straight-faced attempt to recover a poetry of sentiment and felt emotion, but in a fully self-reflexive, contemporary mode.
Perhaps even more striking than the seeming emotional honesty of the poems themselves is Lasky’s reading style, which sometimes involves yelling but always involves powerful and clear articulations of the poems in a forceful, nearly aggressive manner. Her readings are characterized by the intense focus of the audience as she belts and whispers her poems. And though the poems may seem primarily personal, at core they are about the subjective as a universally human experience and problem. Themes of spirituality, death, friendship, and love are cycled through Lasky’s unique personal syntax, as in this excerpt from “Toast to my friend or why Friendship is the best kind of Love”:
That in decay we could find that losing
Is truly beautiful. I love you and what’s so wrong
With that? Life is before us, so let us live!
In friendship we are one together and in friendship
I am all soul. No that’s wrong, too.
What is a soul all aflame?
If it’s a bird in snow,
Then that’s what I am.
Berrigan and Lasky read their work at 7pm on Thursday, February 19, at Rust Belt Books, 202 Allen Street.
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v8n7 (week of Thursday, February 12, 2009) > Literary Buffalo > Buffalo Small Press Poetry presents: Anselm Berrigan & Dorothea Lasky
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