Monday, October 28, 2013

ModPo 2013 #51: The Doing, The Ends To The Means, And a Third Alternative: On Berrigan's "3 Pages"

Image from

3 Pages
For Jack Collom

10 Things I do Every Day

                              play poker
                              drink beer
                              smoke pot
                              jack off



      positive & negative

go home

          read   lunch   poems

               hunker down


                  Life goes by
                                        quite merrily
                        NO HELP WANTED
                                 Hunting For The Whale

                   “and if the weather plays me fair
                               I’m happy every day.”

                     The white that dries clear
                     the heart attack
                     the congressional medal of honor
                     A house in the country

                     NOT ENOUGH

Information from Ted Berrigan, "3 Pages" from The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan. Copyright © 2005 by Ted Berrigan.  Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.

Source: The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan (University of California Press, 2005)

Well, this poem is wacky and carefree. It starts out funny, listing even jacking off as an everyday activity. In a way, the poem is flipping off the conventional, conformist life. I come very close to ten when I list down the things he does every day, counting only the verbs:

  1. play
  2. drink
  3. smoke
  4. jack off
  5. curse
  6. flower
  7. go home
  8. read
  9. hunker down
But then, Berrigan deliberately holds off the tenth to give way to NOT ENOUGH as a statement against a conformist everyday life as alternatives to what to do

There was that note on the folk song which explains the lines "if the weather plays me fair/ I'm happy every day." I was mystified by Hunting For The Whale. I'm glad I found the note on Moby Dick, a metaphor for finding one's place in the universe. Also, what's 3 pages? Is that page 1 = doing something every day, page 2 = partial doing, partial list of cultural references that are available in society, page 3 = nouns, effects (of the causes)? The End = Not Enough? The Poem Talk recording says that the poem is printed on 2 pages and not 3, hinting at the way the poems always comes up short. 

The list of nouns (versus the verbs of what the speaker does) at the end of the poem shows destinations of conformity: the glue drying (I don't know how white turning clear is a symbol of conformity, though, is that a symbol for publication or having a new home or a suburban garage project?), the heart attack (how many people have we heard of who died while suffering stress on the job, right?), the congressional medal of honor (another death, but this time on the battlefield), and a house in the country (and the attendant mortgage, right?).  I like the juxtaposition of "doing" and "results." These are two different modes of being. There is a life lived for the ends: a house in the country, a vacation, a feeling of having arrived, a medal, a promotion. And there is a life of doing something every day, a life of action. 

I liked that little side note in Poem Talk about how Jack Collom is a self-published poet who wrote to Ted Berrigan about "dailiness" or the activity of writing a poem daily. It made be laugh a bit. Because I'm a terribly self-conscious self-published poet (who always doubts how she is actually a poet). And this Berrigan poem about rejecting a traditional, get-a-job-kind-of-life and his admonishment to write really speaks to me. 

I also like that it's a life of choices. But he says, in the end: NOT ENOUGH. Is that a comment on the life choices of an American? Is that a comment on his own life? Is he seeking a third alternative? I'm haunted by that last line. It could be a statement for greediness. But I doubt that's what Berrigan is talking about. Despite the opportunity to flower positive & negative by the waters of Manhattan... the alternatives are not enough. It begs something. And it's worth pondering on. 

I end with the image that I chose for this post. It's a picture from to describe Manhattan under water after Hurricane Sandy. I think it's a fitting image for the poem because it mentions "by the waters of Manhattan" and also Moby Dick (Hunting For The Whale). Berrigan was anti-capitalist and he saw this poem as a summing up of his works: a rejection of the conventional (capitalist) American life. We need to choose a life, though, or we go under without knowing quite why. 

No comments:

Search This Blog