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Friday, 17 June 2016

Above Duxbury Reef (i.m. Bill Berkson 30 August 1939-16 June 2016)

Early Morning, Sculptured Beach, Point Reyes | by austin granger

Early Morning, Sculptured Beach, Point Reyes: photo by Austin Granger, 2 June 2015

Captain Claussen's Eucalyptus Colonnade, Point Reyes | by austin granger

Captain Claussen's Eucalyptus Colonnade, Point Reyes: photo by Austin Granger, 20 February 2011

Captain Claussen's Eucalyptus Colonnade, Point Reyes | by austin granger

 Captain Claussen's Eucalyptus Colonnade, Point Reyes: photo by Austin Granger, 28 February 2011

Eucalyptus And Wind, Drake's Estero, Point Reyes | by austin granger

Eucalyptus and Wind, Drake's Estero, Point Reyes: photo by Austin Granger, 26 February 2011

Sand Dollar, Bolinas Cemetery, Point Reyes | by austin granger 

Sand Dollar, Bolinas Cemetery: photo by Austin Granger, 25 February 2011

Friendly Starfish, McClure's Beach, Point Reyes | by austin granger

Friendly Starfish, McClure's Beach, Point Reyes: photo by Austin Granger, 26 February 2011
IMG_1694.JPG | by jessicaluo

Duxbury Reef: photo by jessicaluo, 24 June 2009

IMG_1675.JPG | by jessicaluo

Duxbury Reef: photo by jessicaluo, 24 June 2009

Duxbury reef - 3/27/10 | by stefan.klocek

 Duxbury Reef: photo by stefan klocek, 27 March 2010

Duxbury Reef | by john weiss

Duxbury Reef: photo by John Weiss, 30 August 2010

Duxbury Reef | by Dan Germoose

Duxbury Reef: photo by Dan Germoose, 29 January 2011

Fields of Sawdust (Bolinas): photo by blmurch, 15 September 2007

Bolinas Road: photo by CrayonAgent (Wouldbe Orange), 24 December 2005

In Bill's Backyard, Bolinas

Now light streams through the trees of the dream.

Dead friends amble through the green bower
The windsilvered eucalyptus makes over our heads;
In Bill's backyard -- framed for this flashback
To the days before, or sometimes during, the flood --
Things are, as in a kind of moonlit masque magically
Lit from within, awhirl, the carousel scene

From Strangers on a Train, though here strangers
There are none, only friends; summer fog coming in
On a grand soft dragon boat, to drift
Over the strangely busy, populous village in the dream;
Sea, hill, wood, numberless detailed goings on;
Off in the distance beyond Elm somewhere,
Out there past Ocean Parkway in the mists,
A whistle buoy intermittent; blue reedy
Spiritual openness of Eric
Dolphy floating from inside; then cloudy faces

Real and unreal
Tossed up on cresting waves
Beyond the reef; in the dream, odd shapes: ghosts
Or sand dollars. So let's make this stroll
Through the underworld last.

Lone pelican (Mt. Tamalpais, from Bolinas Beach): photo by Yana Murphy (edwinsail), 24 July 2007

Windy road from Bolinas, CA | by Wanna Be Creative

Winding road from Bolinas, California: photo by Wanna Be Creative, 21 July 2013

Bolinas Lagoon, Marin County | by Sebastian Anthony

Bolinas Lagoon, Marin County: photo by Mr Seb, 19 September 2010

The carousel scene is incredible. #strangersonatrain: image via Jeanie Finlay @JeanieFinlay, 23 April 2016

Surf, Drake's Beach, Point Reyes | by austin granger

 Surf, Drake's Beach, Point Reyes: photo by Austin Granger, 28 February 2011
Duxbury Reef, California, #4 | by jar [o]

Duxbury Reef, California #4: photo by jar[o], 5 March 2015

Pt Reyes house | by Amanda Tomlin

Pt Reyes house: photo by Amanda Tomlin, 12 April 2013
Pt Reyes house | by Amanda Tomlin

Pt Reyes house: photo by Amanda Tomlin, 12 April 2013
Pt Reyes house | by Amanda Tomlin

Pt Reyes house: photo by Amanda Tomlin, 12 April 2013 


Hazen said...

A beautiful poem, Tom, and a lovely remembrance. The photos are special.

tpw said...

Thanks, Tom---wonderful elegy for Bill, who was such a sweet man. He was here in DC a few months ago and in excellent form (one of the topics we discussed, actually, was "Beyond the Pale").


oh no, so sad to hear this, Bill such a presence in my life, such dear friend.

floating from inside; then cloudy faces
Real and unreal

Curtis Faville said...

Bill was a sort of spiritual patrician, but he moved comfortably through every kind of social situation.

I published his first selected poems, Blue Is the Hero, in 1976, and got to know him then, when he was living in Bolinas.

I remember we were sitting talking on his couch one afternoon, and the flies kept stubbornly, persistently lighting on my shoulders and knees. I swatted away at them diligently, until Bill said, "Curtis, you're not going to win that argument."

We saw almost nothing of each other, other than an occasional e.mail, over the years.

But I will miss him, and feel that the world is somehow incomplete, now that he's no longer here.

Lally said...

so many good comments that say what I would like to....thanks Tom, as always...

Hilton said...

Haunting photos and poem. Bill was a friend and a splendid poet.

TC said...

Many thanks, friends, sad loss, grateful communion.

Bill and I had already been writing back and forth across the big water before meeting when I came back to the US in early 1967, were then friends in NYC though my deep downtown location and his relatively aethereal upper East Side situation might have been thought incompatible, still Bill was ever curious about the other side of the tracks, where the wild things were known to be found, and so all my memories of him from those years are downtown memories, Bill standing out from the general shaggy cast by virtue of his great looks, terrific charm, sartorial elegance, and lovely manners. I have an ineradicable memory of him dueling with Ted over chairmanship of the record player, and if Rachmaninoff ever got listened to down where we were, it was entirely thanks to Bill, resplendent in his Nehru jacket.

In March 1968, Angelica, who ought to be forgiven for this on grounds of natural innocence (she's from a better place), fell into the story, we were married and escaped from New York into a picaresque adventure that would have been hilarious were it not so littered with catastrophic car wreck Murican turnpike nightmares, emitting us finally on the West Coast, in a wee prefab bungalow on a concrete slab on a dirt road (Nymph Road!), fifty yards or so from the lookout vantage above Duxbury Reef seen in photos here -- though over the years the continuing erosion has now shorn away from that overhanging cliff-lip many houses and memories...

But past is past, you can't do it over. Especially not the geology.

From our dirt road promontory on the Bolinas mesa, I wrote to friends back in New York. Soon enough, they were all arriving, singly and together, and wanting to stay over. Our miniature septic tank sustained about two months of that...

Bill came West for a visit over the winter holiday 1969-1970, and in the months that followed we corresponded about housing prospects; by that spring he had found a rental downtown, and came to stay, soon thereafter acquiring a small house of his own on the mesa.

It is there that the small, pleasant and unremarkable gathering of friends remembered in this poem occurred.

Looking at photos now (and of course even with the present accelerated destruction of the planetary nest, things like reefs and oceans still don't change their look all that much over the course of mere human lifetimes) is a sharp reminder of how important the physical setting of the place was in everything that happened in and on it back then, and in everything that had happened, and would ever happen, and how relatively insignificant, temporary and disposable, all the human things that have washed in and washed back out over the years, all that flotsam... though now I suppose there is to be no more washing back out, as in that patch of the planet, every square inch is now "worth", oh, I don't know, what -- as much as the Brooklyn Bridge?

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Rest in peace, Bill Berkson.



Of the dance, day
Breaks and waves

Be light, this earth
That covers you,


TC said...

What better way to go out than on the wings of these lovely lines from the land where poetry has been happening e'er since Homer was a pup in shades. Thank you Vassilis.

Hanford Woods said...

Last time with Bill at dinner just before the New Year. Eight or nine of us, someone asked if we had a choice who would be "your poet." Bill's one word answer: "Keats". Impeccable answer. Impeccable man.

TC said...

Thanks Hanf. That was definitely an impeccable reply.

For twenty years I'd been teaching Keats at a curious sort of poetry school where the tuition was consistently higher than the literary awareness of the students, so that, oh the horror, almost nobody had ever read any of the poetry one would once have considered necessary preparation, and the rest (the result) was, naturally, endless comic relief.

Faced with either abandoning all the greatest poetry in English or miraculously finding some way to make it seem interesting, as if inscribed on a massive blank slate enlivened by colourful hand drawn cartoons, I ended up... yes... inscribing the poems on massive blank slates, with colourful hand drawn cartoons, so to speak. No... literally, in actual insane fact. Oh the shame, oh the pain of the memory. On my hands and knees. In the middle of the night. Small wonder I'm a total cripple now. I've said it was a curious sort of school. I couldn't stand to set foot in the place. Instead, it came to me. And oh what fun that was, here in the haunted house, for everyone...

Wyatt, Donne, Jonson, Marvell, Keats, Pound and the rest... (Or should I say, and the other victims?)

Bill, who was always entirely at home in the works of FOH and the other major contenders in the NYSoP, as if born to the manor, came latterly to Keats as a polite, courteous visitor -- possibly a pretty good way.

Anyhow, my weird eight-foot-tall easels full of Keats lore, quotes, cartoons, the whole heavily sugared pill, fascinated him.

He dubbed them Deep Keats Scrolls, insisted on having them photographed, and who could say no to that.

There were thirty-some sheets in the Keats series. I tried posting a half dozen of the photo versions. Detail resolution came out not so good, but this might give an idea.

From the Deep Keats Scrolls: Negative Capability

Curtis Faville said...

When Bill visited me here in 1975, somehow the subject turned to what I thought about his poetry.

I had thought for some time then how his poetic persona was reminiscent of Keats, so I got out my Keats volume and read the first few lines of Autumn. Bill seemed slightly embarrassed, and surprised, but nodded quietly.


Thanks for these memories of the early days in New York, followed later by those now by gone days here, out on Nymph Road (how aptly named, not only as part of the alphabet of gridded Mesa thoroughfares but as now vanished over-the-cliff presence of place, and lives that once inhabited there). I first met Bill not long after I moved to Bolinas in September 1973, not long after it started to rain -- and rain and rain and rain (50 inches or more that year? everyone wearing black knee-high boots just to get down to the market, men in lumberjack shirts and with bowie knives strapped to their belts standing in from of Smiley's, a pretty wild place or so it seemed to me). Maybe we met at a New Year's Party next door at Bud and Gwen Spangler's house on Brighton (Lynn and my then wife Ashley were friends by then) -- so many times up there at the house on Fern Road filled with books and paintings and records and people and talk . . . Bill the center of everything, knew so much about so many things I didn't know much about then, including the world of New York which he seemed to carry with him in all ways -- he made me a list of all things I should do when I first went there in 1982 (which museums, which trains to take, who to meet), opening the doors for me to his world . . . so many memories going still going on now . . .

TC said...


With Bill the subject did turn to that sometimes, but less and less once a whole new world of interested parties had entered the picture marching-phalanx style, in that drear organisational way that even then seemed to be turning poetry into an eerie technological fore-echo of the kind of message one gets today that says "sent from my iPhone", and, with the new strategic willed forgetting (and with an air of olympian superiority yet!) of what had never been learnt, critical discernment came to mean something closer to who butters up whom, and why. (In time it may come to seem that all of this can be put down to simple childlike Envy of the Machine.) After that it became just how many books ("works") could be produced in the shortest possible time, a fairly strenuous form of exercise I suppose. But to be quite honest, anyone accused of sounding like To Autumn might well be embarrassed. Quite possibly the greatest poem writ in modern English, and in my humble view, untouchable as such by any of us posthistorical yahoos.


Yeesh, these memories. That winter of '73 was pretty wet indeed but for us it felt (relatively) light, almost like a respite from a prior series of winters, the worst being '68-'69, when more than once we were awakened on our concrete-slab futon by gentle waves lapping around us. To know that the entire house was under water required nothing more than putting out a finger toward the floor that was surprisingly no longer there. The vast storms bent the trees low, the roads were pools of mud, the humans slogged and splashed glumly, the frogs sang a grand chorale in the flooded field across the road.

We were always having septic tank and roof problems, so nostalgic, and when we moved over to mid-mesa in '73, surprise, it was still raining, and I spent more time slathering blacktar on the leaky roof than on any other activity I can recall. A losing battle, and I'm a born loser, so I lost, and then I compounded the debacle by moving the whole family off to the dead infernal Rocky Mountains. Famous last words.

Yes, among the many pleasantly wasted hours that constitute the best of my memories of Bo-Town were many, many hours spent hanging out with Bill in that little Fern Road house of his, bachelor pad it was during his first years in town -- talking, listening to music -- I recall certain sides, in that odd biscuit-in-a-teacup-way that brings all back in a kind of swooning rush... Paul and Carla Bley. (!) As an alleged family guy I was always up early back then, Bill not so much, so that, while entertaining in his inimitable hospitable fashion, he'd always be frying up bacon in an old black frying pan.

Once we were talking, the stove was sizzling along, and then the stove blew up!

I hate to say this, but when I heard the COD, I couldn't keep from thinking about all that burnt pigmeat, seeking a home in a human vascular system. Life, such a lovely, mean, sweet, cruel thing.



A flood of memories indeed, your floor underwater, more black tar was it Henry's?) on the roof. I once went over to Bill's to help him patch a leak in his roof (or do it for him, I knew how to do those things, Bill never much of a 'handyman' when it came to fixing stuff around the house (that exploding stove story rings a bell -- maybe it had become part of the mythology by the time I heard it?) but such great knowledge in so many other worldly & wonderful things, "entertaining in his inimitable hospitable fashion" to begin with. Maybe that book cover photo of you sitting shirtless outside in the summer garden was taken over there at Bill's . . . ?

TC said...

Steve, I believe Henry's would have been the black tar in the teacup, yes. Glob after glob after glob... applied with wild druidic storm wind blasting in face.

That kitchen propane blast, a sudden orange fireball, quite memorable if perhaps not fully the stuff of myth -- I mean, it actually happened.

OK, Bill wasn't much of a handyman, but then, he could hire one, which helps.

That cover of At Malibu features the aboriginal auteur sans clothing in the front yard of his Nymph Road estate, with some wind bent cypresses behind...

Those, I guess, must have been the days.


I was lucky and honored to host Berkson in the Czech Republic some years ago. We were all enriched by his visit. He had quite an impact on English-language literary community in Prague.

TC said...

Thanks, Vincent.

An English-language literary community, that's what we need around here.