Lynn Emanuel Takes a Lunch Break with Ted Berrigan

Berrigan 1 Lynn Emanuel

A couple of days ago, Poetry Daily posted a neat poem by Lynn Emanuel from the current issue of the Boston Review entitled “Lunch Break with Ted Berrigan and Neighbor’s House on Fire.”  It is, fittingly, a sonnet, one that appropriates a memorable line from Berrigan’s amazing reinvention of the form, The Sonnets, which itself is a masterpiece of collage and appropriation: “At heart we are infinite, we are ethereal, we are weird!”

Emanuel starts the poem by writing about a burning house, but then quickly questions whether she has the power to remove it from her poem.  She turns to Berrigan to chat about it.

                                                                        I thought,
“I put this house in my sonnet and I can take it out.”
Ted, I thought this burning house was something
I could don and doff. NOT. Is this what art feels like?
And what it feels like to be art? On fire not able to stop?
Shut up you red ambulance a poet is inside you!
It’s 12 PM in the dark neighborhoods of sad youth.
At heart we are infinite, we are ethereal, we are weird!

At the end of his remarkable self-elegy “Red Shift,” Berrigan writes “When will I die? I will never die, I will live / To be 110, & I will never go away, & you will never escape from me / who am always & only a ghost.”  Poems like Emanuel’s suggest that Berrigan was right.  As he predicted, his work could forever change the lives of those who come in contact with it: “I came into your life to change it & it did so & now nothing / will ever change / That, and that’s that.”  

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