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Bill Berkson (1)

Bill Berkson in 2007. Photo by Rich Gaccione for Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Flickr.

Bill Berkson
Born Wllliam Craig Berkson
August 30, 1939 (1939-08-30) (age 81)
New York, NY
Occupation Poet, critic, professor emeritus San Francisco Art Institute
Citizenship United States United States

William Craig Berkson (born August 30, 1939) is an American poet, critic, teacher and sometime curator, who has been active in the art and literary worlds since his early twenties.


Born in New York City, Berkson grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the only child of Seymour Berkson, general manager of International News Service (and later publisher of the New York Journal American), and the fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert. He studied at Trinity School, Lawrenceville, Brown University, Columbia University, the New School for Social Research, and New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.

Having begun writing poetry at Lawrenceville, encouraged there by such teachers as John Silver and the eminent Emily DickinsonscholarThomas H. Johnson, he went on to study short story writing with John Hawkes and prosody with S. Foster Damon at Brown. But his full commitment to poetry was prompted under the tutelage of Kenneth Kochinspring, 1959 at the New School for Social Research. It was also through Koch that he was introduced to the poetry and arts community loosely termed the New York School, which in turn led to close friendships with Frank O’Hara and such senior artists as Philip Guston and Alex Katz, as well as with poets and artists of his own generation such as Ron Padgett, Joe Brainard, George Schneeman, Ted Berrigan, Anne Waldman, Jim Carroll, and others.

After leaving Columbia in 1960, he started work as an editorial associate at ARTnews, where he continued for the next three years. During the remainder of the 1960s, he was a regular contributor to both ARTnews and Arts, guest editor at the Museum of Modern Art, an associate producer of a program on art for public television, and taught literature and writing workshops at the New School for Social Research and Yale University.

After moving to Northern California in 1970, Berkson began editing and publishing a series of poetry books and magazines under the Big Sky imprint and taught regularly in the California Poets in the Schools program.

In 1975 he married the artist Lynn O’Hare; their son Moses Edwin Clay Berkson was born in Bolinas, California, on January 23, 1976. He also has an adopted daughter, Siobhan O’Hare Mora Lopez (b. 1969) and three grandchildren, Henry Berkson and Estella and Lourdes Mora Lopez. New friendships in the California years have included those with Joanne Kyger, Duncan McNaughton, and Philip Whalen.

Berkson is the author of some twenty collections and pamphlets of poetry—including most recently Portrait and Dream: New & Selected Poems and Lady Air.His poems have also appeared in many magazines and anthologies and have been translated into French, Russian, Hungarian, Dutch, Czechoslovakian, Rumanian, Italian, German and Spanish. Les Parties du Corps, a selection of his poetry translated into French, will appear from Joca Serie in Spring 2011. Other recent books are What’s Your Idea of a Good Time: Letters & Interviews 1977-1985 with Bernadette Mayer; BILL with drawings by Colter Jacobsen; Ted Berrigan with George Schneeman and Not an Exit with Léonie Guyer .

Beside the aforementioned collaborations, he has done extensive projects with visual artists Philip Guston, Alex Katz, Joe Brainard, Lynn O’Hare, and Greg Irons, as well as with the poets Frank O’Hara, Larry Fagin, Ron Padgett, Anne Waldmanand Bernadette Mayer.

In the mid-1980s Berkson resumed writing art criticism on a regular basis, contributing monthly reviews and articles to Artforum from 1985 to 1991; he became a corresponding editor for Art in America in 1988 and has also written frequently for such magazines as Aperture, Modern Painters, Art on Paper, and others. In 1984, he began teaching art history and literature and organizing the public lectures program at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he also served as interim dean in 1990 and Director of Letters and Science from 1993 to 1998. He retired from SFAI in 2008 and now holds the position of Professor Emeritus. During the same period, he was also on the visiting faculty of Naropa Institute, California College of Arts and Crafts, Mills College and continues to lecture widely in colleges and universities. He has published three collections of art criticism,to date, the latest being For the Ordinary Artist: Short Reviews, Occasional Pieces & More.

As a sometime curator, he has organized or co-curated such exhibitions as Ronald Bladen: Early and Late (SFMoMA), Albert York (Mills College), Why Painting I & II (Susan Cummins Gallery), Homage to George Herriman (Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery), Facing Eden: 100 years of Northern California Landscape Art (M.H. de Young Museum), George Schneeman (CUE Foundation), Gordon Cook: Out There (Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis) and George Schneeman in Italy (Instituto di Cultura Italiano, San Francisco).

In 1998 he married the curator Constance Lewallen, with whom he lives in the Eureka Valley section of San Francisco.

Berkson’s archive of literary, artistic and other materials, including extensive correspondence and collaborations with O’Hara, Guston, Brainard, Mayer and others through the years is maintained in the Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut, Storrs.


  • Dylan Thomas Memorial Poetry Award, The New School for Social Research, 1959
  • Poets Foundation Grant, 1968
  • Yaddo Fellowship, 1968
  • Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry, National Endowment for the Arts, 1980
  • Briarcombe Fellowship, 1983
  • Marin Arts Council Poetry Award, 1987
  • Artspace Award for New Writing in Art Criticism, 1990
  • Visiting Artist/Scholar, American Academy in Rome, 1991
  • Fund for Poetry Grant, 1994, 2001
  • San Francisco Public Library Laureate, 2001
  • Guest of Honor, Small Press Distribution Open House, 2004
  • Paul Mellon Distinguished Fellow (lecture), Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, 2006
  • “Goldie” for Literature, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, 2008
  • Balcones Poetry Prize, Austin, Texas, 2010
  • Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines (CCLM) grants for publishing, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978
  • Honorable Mention, Editor's Fellowship, CCLM, 1979
  • NEA, Small Press Publishing Grants, 1975, 1977



  • Saturday Night: Poems 1960-61. Tibor de Nagy, 1961
    • reprint, Sand Dollar, 1975.
  • Shining Leaves. Angel Hair, 1969.
  • Recent Visitors (with drawings by George Schneeman). Angel Hair, 1973.
  • Enigma Variations (with drawings by Philip Guston). Big Sky, 1975.
  • 100 Women. Simon & Schuchat, 1975.
  • Blue Is the Hero (Poems 1960-75). L, 1976.
  • Red Devil. Smithereens Press, 1983.
  • Start Over. Tombouctou Books, 1983.
  • Lush Life. Z Press, 1984.
  • A Copy of the Catalogue. Labyrinth, Vienna, 1999.
  • Serenade (Poetry & Prose 1975-1989). Zoland Books, 2000.
  • Fugue State. Zoland Books, 2001.
  • 25 Grand View. San Francisco Center for the Book, 2002.
  • Gloria (with etchings by Alex Katz). Arion Press, 2005.
  • Parts of the Body: a 1970s/80s scrapbook. Fell Swoop, 2006.
  • Same Here (online chapbook). Big Bridge, 2006.
  • Our Friends Will Pass Among You Silently. Owl Press, 2007.
  • Goods and Services. Blue Press, 2008.
  • Portrait and Dream: new & selected poems. Coffee House Press, 2009.
  • Lady Air. Perdika Press, 2010.


  • Recent Visitors (with Joe Brainard). Boke Press, 1971.
  • Two Serious Poems & One Other (with Larry Fagin). Big Sky, 1972.
  • Hymns of St. Bridget (with Frank O'Hara). Adventures in Poetry, 1975.
  • Ants (with drawings by Greg Irons). Arif, 1975.
  • Hymns of St. Bridget & other writings (with Frank O’ Hara). The Owl Press, 2001.
  • The World of Leon (with Ron Padgett, Larry Fagin, & Michael Brownstein). Big Sky, 1976.
  • BILL (with Colter Jacobsen). Gallery 16, 2008.
  • Ted Berrigan (with George Schneeman). Cuneiform Press. 2009.
  • Not an Exit (with Léonie Guyer). Jungle Garden Press, 2010.
  • Repeat After Me (with John Zurier). Gallery Paule Anglim, 2011.


  • Young Manhattan (memoir, with Anne Waldman). Erudite Fangs, 1999.
  • Since When [ memoirs, forthcoming]
  • What’ s Your Idea of a Good Time?: Letters & Interviews (with Bernadette Mayer) (Tuumba Press, 2006)


  • The Sweet Singer of Modernism & Other Art Writings 1985-2003. Qua Books, 2004.
  • Sudden Address: Selected Lectures 1981-2006. Cuneiform Press, 2007.
  • For The Ordinary Artist: Short Reviews, Interviews, Occasional Pieces & More. BlazeVox, 2010.
  • “ The Elements of Drawing” in Wayne Thiebaud: Still-Life Drawings. Paul Thiebaud Gallery, 2010,
  • “ Piero Guston and Their Followers,” Philip Guston/ Roma: a symposium [forthcoming]
  • “ Dean Smith in Action,” Dean Smith, Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco
  • “ Dewey Crumpler’ s Metamorphoses,” in Dewey Crumpler, California African American Museum, Los Angeles, 2008
  • “ Seeing with Bechtle,” in Robert Bechtle/ Plein Air, Gallery Paule Anglim, 2007
  • “ On Adelie Landis Bischoff,” Salander O’ Reilly, 2006
  • “ Ultramodern Park,” in David Park: the 1930s and 40s, 2006
  • “ Introduction,” in Jo Babcock, The Invented Camera, 2005
  • “ A New Luminist,” in Tim Davis, Permanent Collection, 2005
  • “ George’ s House of Mozart,” in Painter Among Poets: The Collaborative Art of George Schneeman, Granary books, 2004
  • “ George Schneeman’ s Italian Hours,” CUE Art Foundation, 2003
  • “ Without The Rose: Jay DeFeo & 16 Americans,” in Jay DeFeo & The Rose, University of California Press, 2003
  • “ Pyramid and Shoe” (Guston and Comics) in Philip Guston, Thames & Hudson, 2003
  • “ The Abstract Bischoff,” Salander-O’ Reilly, 2002
  • “ DeKooning, With Attitude,” in Writers on Artists, Modern Painters, 2002
  • “ Spellbound” (Vija Celmins), McKee Gallery, 2002
  • “ Warhol’ s History Lesson,” John Berggruen, 2001
  • “ Join the Aminals” (Tom Neely), Jernigan-Wicker, 2001
  • “ What the Ground Looks Like” in Aerial Muse: the Art of Yvonne Jacquette, Hudson Hills / Stanford Art Museum, 2001
  • “ The Searcher” in Elmer Bischoff, University of California Press, 2001
  • “ Ceremonial Surfaces” in Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2000
  • “ Existing Light” in Henry Wessel, Bransten Gallery, 2000
  • "Jackson Pollock: The Colored Paper Drawings", Washburn, 2000
  • “ The Portraitist” in Elaine de Kooning / Portraits, Salander O’ Reilly Gallery, New York, 1999
  • “ Hung Liu, Action Painter,” in Hung Liu, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco,1998
  • “ Things in Place,” in Table Tops: Morandi to Mapplethorpe, California Center for the Arts, Escondido, CA, 1997
  • “ Autograph Hounds,” in Hall of Fame of Halls of Fame, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, 1997
  • Homage to George Herriman, Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, 1997
  • “ The Romance of the Rose,” in Jay DeFeo, Moore College of Art, 1996
  • “ Changes like the Weather,” in Facing Eden, University of California Press, 1995
  • “ The Ideal Reader,” in Philip Guston: Poem Pictures, Addison Gallery, 1994
  • “ Poet and Painter Coda,” in Franz Kline, Tapies Foundation/Tate Gallery, 1994
  • “ Apparition as Knowledge” in Deborah Oropallo, Wirtz Gallery, 1993
  • “ The Thiebaud Papers,” in Wayne Thiebaud: Vision and Revision, Fine Arts Museums, 1992
  • "Air and Such" in Biotherm by Frank O'Hara, Arion Press, 1990
  • Ronald Bladen: Early and Late, SFMOMA, 1991


  • Frank O'Hara, In Memory of My Feelings (posthumous collection of poetry, illustrated by 30 American artists). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1967.
    • reprint 2005.
  • Best & Company (a one-shot anthology of art & literature), 1969
  • Alex Katz (with Irving Sandler). Praeger, 1971.
  • Big Sky magazine (12 issues) and books (20 volumes), 1971–78.
  • Homage to Frank O'Hara (with Joe LeSueur). Big Sky, 1978.
    • reprint Creative Arts, 1980; 3rd edition, Big Sky, 1988.
  • Art Journal, Special de Kooning Issue (with Rackstraw Downes), 1989.
  • Frank O'Hara, What's With Modern Art? Mike & Dale’s Press, 1998.

Audio /videoEdit

  • The World Record (with Bob Rosenthal), lp of poets’ readings, St. Marks Poetry Project, 1980.
  • Recordings of poetry on Disconnected (Giorno Poetry Systems) and The World Record (St Marks Poetry Project); Daniel Kane, All Poets Welcome; and in the American Poetry Archive (San Francisco State University), PennSound (University of Pennsylvania) & elsewhere.

See alsoEdit

Bill Berkson part 1

Bill Berkson part 1


  • Contemporary Authors, Volume 180, Gale Research
  • Ron Padgett, ed., World Poets, Volume 1, Scribners, 2002
  • Terence Diggory, Encyclopedia of the New York School Poets, Facts on File, 2009
  • Daniel Kane, All Poets Welcome, University of California Press, 2003
  • Steven Clay and Rodney Philips, A Secret Location On The Lower East Side,
  • Granary/NY Public Library, 1998
  • Who’ s Who in American Art, 2009
  • Constance Lewallen, Joe Brainard: A Retrospective, Granary Books, 2001
  • Ron Padgett, ed., Painter Among Poets: The Collaborative Art of George Schneeman, Granary Books, 2004

External linksEdit

Audio / video
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