passages

Bill Berkson (1939-2016)

Bill Berkson in 2011. Photo: John Suiter.

I ALWAYS THINK of Bill as young, so it comes as a shock to realize that he was old when he died this summer. I first met him in Paris, where he had accompanied Frank O’Hara on a trip in the early ’60s, and it was cheering to know that New York was still turning out glamorous, articulate young creatures. He and Frank had just finished writing their poems about Saint Brigid’s Church on Tompkins Square, something I had seen in the past but never bothered to assay as poetry material. It was a joy to show Bill and Frank, who were staying in Joan Mitchell’s studio I believe, the wonders of Paris. At one point he went to London and I had to place a person-to-person call to him there. The operator asked: Bergson, comme le philosophe? which seemed only appropriate for Bill. As was the case with so many dear friends, he and I seldom spent much time in the same city or even country. They all seem emptier now.

John Ashbery is a poet based in New York.

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