In a community of Brooklyn writers, it is perhaps fitting that Barnett Berger was first met on a bus route, the No. 71, which no longer exists. He was carrying an old book that likely shares the same fate.
He explained that he spoke slowly because he’d suffered a stroke. But his careful, unhurried speech…reminiscent of some smoky beat-generation coffee house of long ago…became his signature sound. The drawn-out strains of classic jazz, which he lived for and listened to as he wrote, could be heard clearly as he read his poetry in his characteristic drawl. We were once or twice able to guess the piece that had inspired a poem before he told us its name.
This music was Barnett’s life, his love for it so pure that his belief that he didn’t have the talent to play it only fueled his commitment to it as an ardent fan. For Barnett, music was life’s all and everything, the very reason for our existence. Like a consummately attentive lover, he appreciated the subtlest differences between recordings of the same work. He knew his facts but would share them quietly, full of reverence for the mystery from which all art is born.
Was he contemplating such thoughts…all the things that exist in the present and all the things that now exist only in the past…when he was struck by a car and died?