phile under: poet + critic

New York School Poet Bill Berkson in Portland

two readings and a conversation

By Lisa Radon February 20, 2010

Bill Berkson

It’s the Berkson Difference Engine, hitting on the level of the syllable, illuminating arrays, pure products of daily utterance, mining one of the deepest veins of living vocabulary ever. — Clark Coolidge

In a remarkable and rare Northwest visit from important New York School poet and art critic, Bill Berkson, he will be doing two readings and a conversation at the Spare Room Poetry series Sunday night, at Reed College Monday night, and then returning on March 6 for a Back Room in conversation with Rob Slifkin "About Philip Guston." It’s huge. (Details below.)

He’s here to celebrate several recent publications: Portrait and Dream: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press); Ted Berrigan (a collaboration with painter George Schneeman) and Sudden Address: Selected Lectures 1981-2006 (both from Cuneiform Press).

Spare Room reading series
Sunday, February 21, 7:30 pm
Concordia Coffee House (2909 NE Alberta)
$5.00 suggested donation

Reed College
Monday, February 22, 6:30 pm
Eliot Hall, Room 314
Free admission

Back Room PDX
"About Philip Guston" — a conversation with Rob Slifkin
Saturday, March 6, 6:30 pm
Cooley Art Gallery, Reed College
Free admission

Born in New York in 1939, Bill Berkson is a poet, critic, teacher and sometime curator, who has been active in the art and literary worlds since his early twenties. Director of Letters and Science at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1993 to 1998, he taught art history, critical writing, and poetry and directed the public lectures program there from 1984 to 2008. He studied at Trinity School, The Lawrenceville School, Brown University, Columbia, the New School for Social Research, and New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.

He is the author of eighteen books and pamphlets of poetry — including, recently, Gloria, a portfolio of poems with etchings by Alex Katz (Arion Press), Our Friends Will Pass Among You Silently (The Owl Press), Goods and Services (Blue Press), and most recently, Portrait and Dream: New & Selected Poems (Coffee House Press).

A collection of his criticism, The Sweet Singer of Modernism & Other Art Writings, appeared from Qua Books in 2004, and Sudden Address: Selected Lectures 1981-2006 from Cuneiform Press, in 2007. A new volume of his art writings and interviews, The Ordinary Artist, will follow soon.

Other recent books are What’s Your Idea of a Good Time: Letters & Interviews 1977-1985 with Bernadette Mayer (Tuumba Press); BILL with drawings by Colter Jacobsen (Gallery 16 Editions); and Ted Berrigan with George Schneeman (Cuneiform Press).

During the 1960s he was an editorial associate at Art News, a regular contributor to Arts, guest editor at the Museum of Modern Art, an associate producer of a program on art for public television, and taught literature and writing workshops at the New School and Yale University.

After moving to Northern California in 1970, he began editing and publishing a series of poetry books and magazines under the Big Sky imprint. Before coming to the Art Institute, he taught regularly in the California Poets in the Schools program.

In the mid-1980s he resumed writing art criticism on a regular basis, contributing monthly reviews and articles to Artforum from 1985 to 1991; he became a corresponding editor for Art in America in 1988 and also writes frequently for such magazines as Aperture, Modern Painters, Art on Paper, and others.

As a curator he has organized or co-curated such exhibitions as "Ronald Bladen: Early and Late" (SFMoMA), "Albert York" (Mills College), "Why Painting I & II" (Susan Cummins Gallery), "Homage to George Herriman" (Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery), and "Facing Eden: 100 Years of Northern California Landscape Art" (De Young Museum).

Past recipient of awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artspace, Yaddo, the Briarcombe Foundation, the Fund for Poetry, the Poets Foundation, and the American Academy in Rome, he was Distinguished Paul Mellon Lecturer for 2006 at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and was awarded the 2008 Goldie for Literature from the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

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