San Francisco poet, art critic and teacher Bill Berkson has died at the age of 76. He was a longtime professor of art history at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Berkson’s stepdaughter Nina Lewallen says Berkson suffered a heart attack last week.
Berkson was born in New York City and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970, where he taught for a while in the California Poets in the Schools program.
Berkson moved easily between the worlds of art criticism and poetry. He wrote for Artforum, Aperture, Modern Painters, Art on Paper, and other magazines, and collaborated on work with artists such as Philip Guston. But he also published more than 20 volumes of poetry, with roots in the post-modern New York School that included Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, and Anne Waldman.
Lewallen says the family is planning memorial services for both San Francisco and New York.
Here's Berkson's poem “Christmas Eve,” excerpted from his book Portrait and Dream: New and Selected Poems, published in 2009:
Behind the black water tower
under the grey
of the sky that feeds it
smoke speeds to where a pigeon
spreads its wings
This is no great feat
Cold pushes out its lust
We walk we drink we cast
our giggling insults
Would you please
leave the $2.50 you owe me
I would rather not talk about it
just now Money bores me I would like
to visit someone who will stay
in bed all day A forest is rising
imperceptibly in my head
not a civilized park
I think it would be nice this “new
moral odor” no it would not mean
“everything marching to its tomb”
The water tower
watches over us Is there someone
you would like to invite no one.