Ted Berrigan had a poet’s career that only a poet in the United States could have. Berrigan received a master’s degree in English but had an intense dislike for academia. He later reasoned that if one is a poet, one must “do that” and nothing else. Nevertheless, Berrigan was fortunate enough to hold teaching positions at the famed Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, at Northwestern University in Chicago as poet-in-residence, at the Poetry Project of St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery in New York City, and finally, toward the end of his life, at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Despite his having published some twenty books, and despite his teaching positions, Berrigan was constantly broke, always borrowing money from his vast collection of friends—money that he invariably was unable to repay. Big publishers ignored his poetry as being too flighty and too comic until after his death. Of all his books, only the posthumous Selected Poems is from a large publisher, Penguin Books, with blurbs on the back from Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley.
However, Berrigan was not without friends or influence. Other poets flocked to him wherever he went. In Chicago, he was influential in starting the magazine Milk Quarterly and the Yellow Press, which published his Red Wagon. He also stood behind the Stone Wind poets and their reading series, run by Henry Kanabus. In New York, Angel Hair books would not have existed without Berrigan’s support. Toothpaste Press in Iowa City (later the major Coffee House Publishers) owed a good deal to Berrigan’s influence. In Boulder, the magazine Bombay...
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