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

  • From: "Andy Amago" <aamago@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2006 23:13:42 -0400

Could knowing his psychological state have changed your opinions?  I had a 
pretty good idea of his bio before I read Dream Songs and liked them anyway, 
perhaps more so because of it.  They're not easy to analyze.  I couldn't make 
heads or tails of some of them.  I just went with images and feelings.  I guess 
that's why they're called Dream Songs.  I doubt there's a writer anywhere that 
won't have some issues they're dealing with.  Or president or anybody at all.  
We know more about public people because we take time with them that we don't 
take with ordinary mortals, but issues are pretty much the same across the 

We saw The Way We Live Now, the BBC dramatization of Anthony Trollope's book.  
Many of the issues are straight out of today, stock bubbles, global trade, and 
quite a few others.  The late 19th century almost parallels the late 20th 
century.  Trollope captures that time and tells a good story while he's at it.  
I really liked it.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Lawrence Helm 
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Sent: 10/10/2006 10:46:32 PM 
Subject: [lit-ideas] American poetic scene at the beginning of 72

-----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 go.

?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 


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