[lit-ideas] American poetic scene at the beginning of 72

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2006 19:46:26 -0700

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Chilson
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: American poetic scene at the end of 52


thanks for this, Lawrence.  I wouldn't mind reading more excerpts of it

if you're so inclined...




I finished Berryman's biography yesterday.  Berryman became a great success.
He won all the prizes, got all the recognition, had women falling all over
themselves for him (and he really liked women -- lots of them) and he was
famous.  Everyone knew who he was.  So here he is for us, we poetasters, we
who fall short of the real thing.  Here is what it would be like to move
from amateur to professional:  No more money worries, no more worries about
having to teach classes he didn't want to.  It is all his.  He is there.  It
is January 1972 and he is at the pinnacle of his success:


"Friday morning, January 7, after another restless night, Berryman told Kate
he was going to his office to put his things in order.  Kate sent Martha to
school, then bundled Sarah to do the shopping.  'You won't have to worry
about me anymore,' he told her as she went out.  But she'd heard that one
before too.  At half past eight he put on his coat and scarf and walked down
to University Avenue.  There he caught the shuttle bus heading west toward
campus.  He passed the stores along the avenue, then got off with the
morning crowd at Ford Hall.  But instead of going to his office, he walked
out onto the upper level of Washington Avenue Bridge.  It was bitterly cold,
but, rather than use the glass-enclosed walkway, he began waling along the
north side of the bridge toward the west-bank campus.  Three quarters of the
way across, he stopped and stared down.


"A hundred feet below and to his right rode the river: narrow, gray, and
half frozen.  In front of him were the snow-covered coal-storage docks, and
directly below the winter trees and a slight knoll rising like a grave.  So
it was still there, waiting.  He climbed onto the chest-high metal railing
and balanced himself.  Several students inside the walkway stopped what they
were doing when they saw him and stared in disbelief.  He made a gesture as
if waving, but he did not look back.  From this height, he must have
figured, the blade did seem redundant after all.  Then he tilted out and let


"Three seconds later his body exploded against the knoll, recoiled from the
earth, then rolled gently down the incline.  The campus police were the
first to arrive and found a package of Tereytons, some change, and a blank
check with the name Berryman on it.  Inside the left temple of his shattered
horn-rimmed glasses they found the name a second time.  An ambulance took
the body to the Hennepin County Morgue, where Berryman was officially
pronounced dead."



So, some on Lit-Ideas might ask, 'what was his problem?'  Well, we would
have to define 'problem.'  He could only write well if he was drinking
heavily.  Not while he was drunk of course but maybe during the first few,
and then afterwards when he sobered up and someone told him what he had done
the night before and he felt remorse.  Remorse is another good subject for
poetry.  Then too there are the deep psychological problems.  His father
committed suicide or his mother murdered him, but he mostly thought the
former.  He always kept going back to that, his father's suicide, so
obviously that was one of his psychological problems.  Then there was his
mother.  She was a dominant lady and when he was losing an argument with her
he discovered as a child that passing out always ended the argument so he
did that a lot.  His wives weren't as impressed with that procedure as his
mother was.  


Then too there was his philandering, usually done while drunk.  None of his
wives appreciated that as much as he did.  Perhaps the last wife, Kate,
telling him that if he didn't quite drinking and philandering she was
really, really, really going to leave him and this time she really, really
meant it tipped him over the edge, so to speak.  Maybe at his age, 58, he
didn't think he had enough energy left to acquire another wife.  He was a
really, really, really old 58.  


I've been rereading the Dream Songs and discover that I'm not nearly as
impressed with them as when I first read them years ago, when they were
first published.






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