Archive for the ‘berryman’ Category
John Berryman sat in rehab looking like a “dishevelled Moses”, his shins black and blue, his liver palpitating, reciting Japanese and Greek poets and quoting Immanuel Kant. When he found out the doctors around him were serious he buckled under, declaring himself “a new man in 50 ways!” and affecting an ostentatious “religious conversion” which he proceeded to pour into a series of poems to his Higher Power (“Under new governance your majesty”). Ten days after leaving he found he needed a quick stiff one to get the creative juices flowing again and downed a quart of whisky. “Christ,” was all he could say the next morning.
Second time around he got himself a sponsor named Ken, and tried prose, writing a novel about his recovery, called “Recovery”, which goes some way to explaining why the recent spate of bestsellers on the subject have been non-fiction. Pretentious and opaque, including “a bloody philosophy of both history and Existens, almost as heavy as Tolstoy”, Berryman’s book remains an object lesson in how not to recover, as Donald Newlove has pointed out:
First you hang on to all your old romances about your illness, then you suck your old grandiosity for every drop that’s still in it, you vigorously emphasise your uniqueness among the clods who might be recovering with you, and then you defend to the death your right to self-destruction…Starting afresh meant that a massive part of his work so far was self-pity and breast-beating. That was the last mask he couldn’t rip off. It was like tearing the beard from his cheeks.
The book remained unfinished; within weeks of leaving Berryman threw himself from Minneapolis’s Washington Avenue bridge, his body splitting like a melon upon impact with the ground.
Trying to count. It’s terrifying in at least four ways, maybe lots more. I’m scared to look again.
John Berryman’s The Dream Songs following me around in my waking life, if not the other life too. I should just lie in bed and read it. It is on a table when someone comes in – Oh, you’re reading that too! And then a moment of discomfort with a new student (what to say what to say) broken when, at my prompt about what he is most interested in at the moment, he says at the moment, I’d have to say The Dream Songs. I tell him he’ll read them for his entire life, and they’ll change with his age. Later the same day, with colleagues, I make a joke about the land-grant university system, MFA programs, and suicide…. and Berryman. I regret the joke now, even though I’m sure I seemed very, very clever at the time.
I am not sure what to make of the fact that everyone in the world seems to be reading Berryman at once. It can’t be a good sign, but neither is it the worst. One I linked to, but did not clip in, before: #14:
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.
It hangs on the wall, directly outside of my office, this one. Here’s hoping that you, reader, have no Henry, or that if you do, he keeps mostly quiet and calm. Mine keeps me up, drones on through the parts when I should eat or sleep. For instance, he says tonight: Everyone around me – and even me, for once – is doing so complexly well. But the sky it all takes place against is tinged with pseudo-diabetic shock, colored grolsch and yellow. Each according to her or his abilities, and it is great, but it has jaundice, is translucent but hospitalized. That sort of thing!
(But just look at the insipid painting in the background of #14. Turner in the first stanza turns into garagesale watercolor in the third. More complexly changeable than the portrait that hangs in Dorian’s attic, and then the dog, the tail…)
I apologize that this blog, once proudly about things that mattered, has become a waking/sleeping dream journal of sorts. I keep telling you, out of guilt, that I’m writing that Other Stuff all of the time only elsewhere. And I am! A remarkably consistent democratic socialist, in more genres than ever, and then now here, only this, the uncommentable.