Thursday, December 13, 2012



Portrait and Dream: New and Selected Poems by Bill Berkson
(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2009)

I honed in on this book because of its title which is also the title of a Jackson Pollock painting. ( Here’s a link to a reproduction:,%20Portrait-Dream.jpg )  The painting is evocative and repays multiple viewings.  On the left hand side of the canvas—the black and white “dream”  side—is a somewhat muddy tangle of bodies and biomorphic shapes.  On the right hand side of the canvas—the colored  “portrait” side—is a somewhat cubist face reputed to be a representation of Pollock when he was drunk.

Figure and abstraction, intoxication and dreams: poles artists and poets have been known to ricochet between.  Blue poles?

Berkson’s writing, at its best (and his best is very, very good) is witty, aphoristic and unforced.  I’m particularly fond of shorter poems like


A pair of dark blue panties
among hairbrushes. 

Or of poems like “Parts of the Body and “Parts of the Body (2)” which are knitted from fragments, fragments like:

What you do to your body
for love, and

of course it
gets back at you.

And  fragments like:

It is in the nature of change
to be in your pocket
when you need it.

And fragments like:

You Know What Crazy Is?

In the absence of delight,
the mind goes
and fucks itself.

“In the absence of delight,/the mind goes/and fucks itself.”  For me that is the signature line of the collection.  In delight is found the point located precisely between dream and intoxication.
Portrait and Dream is a rich collection, spanning fifty years of work.  The only way to do it justice is to read and re-read it.  It’s a fine book.


Tom Beckett is currently at work on a project called Appearances: A Novel In 365 Fragments. He doesn't believe corporations are people and he doesn't think of them as friends.

1 comment:

  1. Another view is offered by Eileen Tabios in GR #12 at