December 04, 2009

Audio of My Berkeley Poetry Reading, 16 Nov 09

Dear Friends:

Here 'tis; enjoy!:

ps: a much clearer and more audible version was subsequently engineered by a friend of mine, and can be accessed at


Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Listening to these poems brought a smile to my face. Also, a sense of longing. "The Mind-Body Problem", in particular, reminded me of another poem (if it's OK to call song lyrics by Pink Floyd a poem):

"When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look but it was gone. I cannot put my finger on it now. The child is grown, the dream is gone. I have become comfortably numb."

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Like Art, I started my day with a smile after hearing your poems---maybe a good second title would be A Life Well Lived. I could really see and feel what you were saying, especially the poems at the end about your new life in Mexico, spending the morning in your courtyard with coffee and a cigar.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear A & S-

It's tea, actually, but let's not quibble. Thanks mucho for your kind words and support. SFSU videod all of the events, and if they ever create a link with this material, I'll be glad to post it. But I felt that the crucial thing was the audio for the poetry, at least, because it's an oral medium, and delivery/timing is all. Part 2 was my reading from my forthcoming collection of essays at the Unitarian Church; hopefully my agent can find a publisher for them b4 2 long (they'll be out in Spanish trans in March, for you hispanohablantes out there). And part three was a Q&A session with a poetry class at SFSU, something like 2.5 hrs; which turned out well (I think) because of a fair number of bright and interested students in the audience. The Poetry Center at SFSU has been archiving these visiting stints since 1954, and told me I was in good company (Langston Hughes et al.); but whether they will make the material publicly available is not clear at this pt. I hope so.

The rdg at Moe's Bks, in any case, was my 1st, i.e. in terms of poetry, and I'm hoping I get a few more invitations around the US (tho I'm sure that's a long shot). There is something abt rdg your own poetry that's very different from giving an academic lecture--it's a whole lot more intimate, and I enjoyed the experience. Moe's is also a great venue; one of the few indep bkstores left in the country, I'm guessing.


6:10 PM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

Good stuff, the poems, and esp. your reading aloud. I came across the following verses a couple of years ago, and still haven't discovered the name of the poet or poem, in spite of search engines.

"For no thought of man made Gods to love and honour,
Ere the song within the silent soul began,
Nor might earth in dream or deed take heaven upon her
Till the word was clothed with the speech of man."

Mark Notzon

6:39 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Sounds like Milton, but that's just a guess.--mb

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, University of Toronto...just found the lines come from a poem by Swinburne, "The Oracle," this poem more famously known for the line "Thou has conquered, O, Galilean."

Your "words were clothed with the speech" of your being, in the poetry reading which is why I quoted them.

Milton's a better guess than I would have made. Robert Graves' rewriting of some of Milton's verses, to show how pompous and inept he was (!), astounded me so much, years ago, that I could never read him the same way again.

Mark N.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Swinburne, indeed--and that's about as far from Milton as one can get, ideologically (Swinburne was a tremendous admirer of the work of Baudelaire and de Sade). For a more interesting work of Swinburne's, have a look at "Anactoria", and you'll see what I mean.

As for Robert Graves, he clearly knows a thing or two about ineptitude, first hand. No one would need to re-write anything of his in order to demonstrate that.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I just watched your interview with the Canadian filmmaker. And I was struck by your comments at the end of the second clip. In which you give advice to activists, in particular young people coming out of college. It was a bit bleak and horrifying to be honest.

I'm 22, just coming out of college myself. And although the question of whether or not I'd like to really buy into The American Dream occurred to me in high school, I find myself thinking about these things now more then ever.

Then again, its too late now. I'm in thousands of dollars of debt and now have only the choice of following through and get a job in the office. Or was there ever really a choice? My generation was raised with the same ideas as the last one, only more so.

I was also struck by your comments on cynicism. It seems every guy I meet who isn't some brain dead jock, who shares some of my viewpoints and is my age. They seem to be filled with a complete sort of apathy regarding everything. Its like they see the terrible game we the younger generation have been goaded into playing, and they've decided to go along. Unlike the jocks who have no idea they're apart of any game at all. And its terrible because I see the game too (I think), and I'm playing along just the same. And I see no answer to my generations dilemma.

Anyway, just some thoughts on the matter. I guess I just wanted to thank you for writing your books, and for all the work that you do.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Thanks for writing, and for being so forthright about your concerns. On a practical level: I believe--and I could be wrong, because I'm out of touch with university admin policy these days--you don't have to start paying back student loans as long as you are still a student. If so, I suggest you apply for grad school or professional school in Europe. Then, when you get your degree, you can get a job (hopefully) and start sending the money you owe for your undergrad education back. This would be a real alternative for you, so I suggest you at least check on it.

As for staying here, you're right: seeing thru the game and having to play it nevertheless is a rough ride; better to be doped up, as most of the American public is (actually, ignorance is *not* bliss--reality has a funny way of intruding). I don't envy you; when I was 22, in 1966, some of us understood what was coming down but still thought we could turn it around. It was not clear to anyone at that time how misguided we were. But that's what we thought.

Your situation is very, very different, because it is clear to a fair number now (although still a tiny minority) that the jig is up, that the US is going the way of all empires, and that this is happening as we speak. (Invading Afghanistan, e.g., is the classic dumb move; the place is called 'the graveyard of empires'.) But if you feel you have to stay in the US, that there really is no other option for you, the only thing I can suggest is what I outline about the 'new monastic individual' in my "Twilight" book. The goal is to squeeze out a life of meaning, against overwhelming odds (and it usually doesn't pay very well, either).

Whatever you choose: my blessings. I hope things work out for you, amigo. I personally believe that good things can happen when you refuse to live a deluded life.


10:21 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Anon.,

I found your letter very touching as I have a 23 year old daughter and hear thru her about the confusion and challenges your generation is facing. The world you're entering as an adult is a far more treacherous place than it was 40 years ago but the illusion being sold is the same then as now. They want you to believe there is no escape from the conveyor belt leading to the office cubicle, revolving debt and miniscule apartments with free cable. (When I say "they" I don't mean some evil, organized conspiracy but simply the combined forces of tradition, inertia and group pressure to name a few.) The fact that you're reading and questioning your desire to follow along is an important step.

I don't minimize your financial situation or concern about being trapped into basically mortgaging your life to service your debt. I wasn't in debt at 22 (no one in their right mind would have loaned me money and didn't thank God) but I was flat broke and read more than one eviction notice slapped on the door and empathize with your dilemma. Even though Your Money or Your Life was written more for middle aged people who have worked for a number of years and have had it, it might help you take a long, hard look at what money can and cannot do and give you hope and practical skills to deal with your own problems.

The Baby Boomers have not left the world a better place contrary to the myths cranked out on PBS specials during pledge week. My own daughter thinks, with a great deal of justification, that we were a self indulgent, entitled bunch and then, as now, the people who could see thru the illusion were few. Good luck to you.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

For an interesting book on the subject, check out "The Sixties," by Jenny Diski. Focus is on the UK, but she captures a lot of the deluded nature of the time, for the US as well as Britain. (Not that I think it was totally without value. How often does a society stop in its tracks and ask the great philosophical questions, after all?)


10:17 PM  
Blogger Michael M. said...

I'm 30, and have only recently just graduated myself, in May of '08. My major was film, and although I regard college as an invaluable experience, I sometimes wonder if it might have been better to have majored in something more practical. I'm living in San Francisco, working at Safeway, not quite sure what the next move in my life is going to be. Deer in the headlights.

I was at the Unitarian Church reading, by the way. I said hello as you walked into the room. I was wearing a pea coat. When you were asked to name some current "truth tellers," I wanted to name my greatest inspiration in college, Ray Carney. Although his subject is film, he covers a lot of the same territory as you, Pr. Berman. He's also pretty derided by his own faculty, and much of the film establishment.

Anyway, I could ramble on, but my point is that his writing helped shape what I am today. I would be reading this blog without it. I think I would feel utterly helpless at this point in my life without having had the veil drawn back.

I'm sorry, I thought I knew where I was going with this. It just feels like to be a creative/artistic/intellectual type with any depth in this country today is to be absolutely alienated. To cast off conventional wisdom, to be an individual thinker, to not toe some sort of line, to go your own way isn't going to get you far in our society, barring being a genius or something.

I feel like I have no future.

4:49 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Michael,

Well, 'truth-tellers' don't necessarily have to be famous, and I certainly am not. But there are lots of us around--in the "Twilight" bk, I call them NMI's, New Monastic Individuals. This can be a very rewarding life. So when you write that you feel you have no future, I'm not entirely convinced. If you could pay your bills, have a minimally decent lifestyle, and get to do what you believed in, what was meaningful for you, would that be a future? After all, anyone in a creative field takes the chance that they won't be 'successful'--defined in terms of cash or celebrity status. And most probably won't. It's more a matter of luck and self-promotion than actual talent, as I'm sure you realize.

If I wanted to bother myself about it, I could say things like: How come I never won a Pulitzer, or got to give a distinguished public lecture series, or got asked to contribute an article to a major magazine? After all, it would be nice; but given the nature of what I say in my work, and the fact that I don't 'circulate', do the 'right things', I can only expect real recognition to occur for me in some alternative universe. I made my choice regarding all of that a long time ago. On the other hand, on fairly modest means (I don't have much money in the bank, and the crash of 2008 wiped out a fair amount of what was there), I have a decent, private, enjoyable lifestyle, in which I get to do what is most important to me. Every day, when I get up, I say: "What do I feel like doing today?" My friend, that is *real* wealth, real privilege. I doubt that .001% of the planetary population gets to do that. Pulitzer be damned, I'm quite grateful for the 'little' I have.

Of course, you don't want to be working at Safeway forever; I think we can both agree on that. So you have 3 options, as I see it.

a) Leave the country. This is by far the best choice. Go somewhere where there actually is a social safety net. The noose will only get tighter in the US, as you grow older: of that, have no doubt. The rich will get richer and the poor poorer, and the middle class will be completely destroyed. We are following the classic Roman pattern, as I predicted in "Twilight" and is now coming true. You aren't too young to emigrate, and you should give this option some serious thought.

b) Commit yourself to a film career while working odd jobs. I did something of the sort in the
70s, when I was living in SF and writing the "Reenchantment" bk. The danger here is that you'll always be at a subsistence level, economically, which becomes a drag after a while. In essence, you are gambling on accidentally hitting a home run in your film career, so to speak, which could well be a long shot.

c) Find an alternative career, but don't give up the work in film. In this case, you need some marketable skill--mine was teaching, much of which I did on a free-lance basis (e.g. in Washington I gave writing and editing workshops). It wasn't the preferred thing I wanted to do, but I was good at it, and I also enjoyed a lot of it. Even more, I found that it served to enrich my writing. Versatility, in short, can be a very good thing.

Finally, although it is a lonely path, 'having had the veil drawn back' is its own special kind of reward. I am convinced that ignorance is not bliss, and that it is better to confront an ugly truth than live a cheerful lie--which is what nearly all of our countrymen, and women, are doing. Life in a fog is no life at all, and it sounds like you have managed to avoid that.

I don't know if this helps at all, amigo, but there it is.

Keep me posted-


9:44 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Thanks for your answer and I'll read the book you recommended too. I wasn't wanting to denigrate the Sixties so much as comment on the fact that for the most part (as far as I could tell by the subsequent events) the shallowness of the commitment to a new way of life. Our generation confronted The Establishment but went on to ever bigger homes, cars and devotion to the stock market. Obviously, from your writing and how you set up your life, you and probably a number of friends benefited from the exposure to Eastern religion and philosophy. I saw too many people trivialize Buddhism, Vietnam, etc.----but I was in Texas in 1968 and (from what I can tell) you and your friends were in a liberal university in New York. Two very different worlds. When I look at the world these discouraged and lost young kids are left to deal with---huge college loans, little opportunity for creative expression---I wonder what happened to all those idealist kids in the sixties.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

I'm not sure the location of university is that crucial, or even of country. Jenny Diski makes the same pt abt co-optation that you do, hints at some of the reasons for it. But she ignores the fact that for a rare moment in history, philosophical questions of major import got asked publicly (in France in particular)--we woke up out of the nightmare of history, to paraphrase James Joyce--and that is no small thing. Second, lots of Americans went into fields such as poverty law or the environmental movement; Tom Hayden and Mario Savio are/were only the tip of the iceberg. Finally, thru drugs and other means, the artificial nature of certain boundaries got exposed--which scared a lot of people, of course, but liberated a lot as well. All in all, despite the eventual backsliding into the corporate-consumer world (facilitated by the Sixties' emphasis on the self, on individual experience), the Sixties did more good than harm; or at least, that's how I see it. I think some of the original ideals remain.


10:01 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman, I read The Sixties as you recommended and agree with Ms. Diski -- the music was good. And I liked what she had to say about the impact of the sixties on education and "the young at least risked those privileges to investigate what it was they were doing, rather than simply accept what they were told." Good things did happen during those years that changed the way we live--gays can live openly, women are more autonomous and the definition of creativity expanded. Of course, as with everything, there have been unintended consequences and there's still plenty of repression. It's a complicated world and no simple answers to big questions ever materialize, do they? In another post of yours you wrote about books that changed the way you think; when I was a freshman in college I took an intro to philosophy class and remember the chapter on Socrates. What is a good life?---a question I ask myself frequently about my own and wonder about others. Thanks for your recommendation---I really enjoyed the book.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My friend and I were recently talking about technology, and how integrated it has become to our daily lives. Reading this post makes me think back to that discussion we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further develops, the possibility of downloading our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could encounter in my lifetime.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4i[/url] DS SysBro)

6:57 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


You might want to rethink that; it would be the culmination of the Big Brother society. If you haven't seen the Robin Wms film, "The Final Cut," now may be a good time.


7:38 PM  

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