I was on the plane coming back from California & trying to get a little sleep, so I of course turned to Poets & Writers, the trade journal dedicated to the concept that poetry can be as pedestrian as any other job, &, whilst thumbing thru its pages noted the little list of names that appears as a sidebar in each issue: writers who have recently died. On the list was Carol Bergé.
When I got back to Chester County, I looked on the web to see who had noted this, finding only one memorial poem on Bob Arnold’s Woodburners site. A search of the Wom-PO archives turns up nothing. According to Amazon, you can download a four-page write-up from the Gale Group Contemporary Authors biographies, but nothing else is in print. The Gale Group piece is perfunctory at best, tho it does give a list of her books, both prose and poetry & only mentions in passing her role as the editor of Center from 1970 thru 1981. It gives her home address as the Chelsea Hotel.
I met Bergé just once on a street corner in San Francisco’s Chinatown, for less than a minute. She was one of four writers – Diane Wakoski, Rochelle Owens & Barbara Moraff were the others – immortalized in LeRoi Jones’ infamous attempt at pre-feminist editing, Four Young Lady Poets, published by Totem/Corinth in 1962, quick enough after the appearance of the Allen anthology for you to realize that any one of them might have been included, might have increased The New American Poetry’s representation of women from just four (Madeline Gleason, Barbara Guest, Helen Adam, Denise Levertov) of its 44 contributors. Four Young Lady Poets was successful enough to go through at least three editions in the 1960s, literally the first announcement that the New American poetry wasn’t going to be just the Male American poetry. When it first appeared, Bergé was 34 years old.
Bergé had three books in the 1970s from Bobbs-Merrill, a trade publisher unique in that it was headquartered in Indianapolis, one from Black Sparrow, one (in 1984) from Ishmael Reed’s I.Reed. Two of the Bobbs-Merrill volumes were fiction – Bergé was one of the first true metafiction writers in the U.S. – but most of her publishers were presses with names like Weed/Flower, Membrane, Fault, Theo Press and Amalgamated Sensitivity. In the 1970s, when she was editing Center, Bergé was also doing the academic nomad routine, teaching at Goddard College, the University of Southern Mississippi, where she briefly edited the Mississippi Review, the University of New Mexico, Grand Valley State College and Wright State University. She belonged to all the usual writers organizations and served on P.E.N.’s executive committee in 1977-79. Her one NEA grant came in 1979, in the large batch that attempted to make up for all the years of excluding post-avants from earlier awards (& which caused howls of outrage from a certain school of you-know-what that likes to pretend it doesn’t exist).
Considering that the Gale Group bio lists a total of 23 books, her near total disappearance is startling. A review like this one in the New York Times from 1984 suggests that Bergé was able to garner serious attention for challenging work, but for reasons I don’t quite get she never seems to have won the sort of lasting following her writing deserves. To use CAConrad & Larry Fagin’s term, Bergé has become one of our true neglectorinos. At the very least, there would seem to be good cause for a selected poems & a selected prose.
You can find some of her writing on the net, most of it poetry. The best selection is an excerpt from The Unexpected on Karl Young’s Light & Dust website, the book having been published originally by his own Membrane Press. Three other pieces can be found in the first issue of Grist On-Line, where her work is sandwiched between Tuli Kupferberg, one of the original Fugs, and yours truly. Bob Arnold reprints one piece from The Unexpected, in a slightly different form than you’ll find on Light & Dust.
Carol Bergé would have been 78 this year.