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Bill Berkson (1939–2016)

John McMurtrie reports in the SF Gate that poet Bill Berkson has died. Born in New York City, in 1939, he first studied poetry in 1959 in Kenneth Koch’s class at the New School for Social Research, where he met Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, and other New York school poets. He collaborated with O’Hara, Ron Padgett, Anne Waldman, Bernadette Mayer, and Philip Guston, among others, and wrote more than twenty volumes of poetry. His first, Saturday Night: Poems 1960–61, was published in 1961 and his last book was a travel journal titled Invisible Oligarchs: Russia Notebook, January–June 2006 & After, published this year.

After studying at Columbia University, he left in 1960 to become an editorial associate at Artnews, and he continued there for the next three years. He moved to the Bay Area in 1970 and taught in the California Poets in the Schools program, and he then taught art history, critical writing, and poetry from 1984 to 2008 at the San Francisco Art Institute. He was named professor emeritus there before his death. Berkson was a contributor to several prominent art publications, including Artforum. His most recent article for us was a Passages piece on the painter Jane Freilicher. His critical work was collected in such books as The Sweet Singer of Modernism and Other Art Writings 1985–2003 and Sudden Address: Selected Lectures 1981–2006.

Memorial services will be held in San Francisco and New York and donations in Berkson’s name may be sent to the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and Poets in Need.