Bill Berkson's Invisible Oligarchs is like a book jotted on the back of a poet's hand--a hand that picks up everything that sings to it, from gold-leaf proverb to chopstick sheath, on its quick trip through a few places in urban Russia, 2006. Across faintly ruled Japanese paper, many pages reproduced here in facsimile, snapshots change hands, new poems blink, and poetry politics meet political gossip over lunch in St. Petersburg. Berkson's educated guesswork about that elusive quality once known the Great Russian Soul, is framed here by letters from his friend Kate Sutton and encompassing encounters with poets and cab drivers, Moscow conceptualists and a White Night at the Mariinsky Ballet. As a sharply observant poet and the most soulful art critic alive, Berkson knows how to get us behind the set, and reading this book is as nice as taking a high dive with him into a perfectly mixed White Russian.
Bill Berkson was born in New York in 1939. He moved to Northern California in 1970 and now divides his time between San Francisco and New York. He is a poet, critic, sometime curator, and professor emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he taught art history and literature for many years. A corresponding editor for Art in America, he has contributed to such other journals as Artforum, Aperture, Modern Painters, and artcritical.com. His recent books include PORTRAIT AND DREAM: NEW & SELECTED POEMS (Coffee House Press, 2009); BILL, a words-and-images collaboration with Colter Jacobsen; Lady Air; Not an Exit with drawings by Léonie Guyer; REPEAT AFTER ME (Gallery Paule Anglim, 2011), with watercolors by John Zurier; and a collection of his art writings, FOR THE ORDINARY ARTIST (BlazeVOX books, 2010), as well as a new collection of his poems, Expect Delays, from Coffee House Press in 2014 and INVISIBLE ORLIGARCHS out from Ugly Duckloing Presse in 2016.