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John and Henry

Christopher Reid, 2 December 1982

The Life of John Berryman 
by John Haffenden.
Routledge, 451 pp., £15, September 1982, 0 7100 9216 4
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Poets in their Youth: A Memoir 
by Eileen Simpson.
Faber, 272 pp., £10.95, September 1982, 0 571 11925 5
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... When John Berryman’s first full-length collection of poems, The Dispossessed, was published in 1948, Yvor Winters wrote a notice of it for the Hudson Review. Here Winters drew attention to Berryman’s ‘disinclination to understand and discipline his emotions’, and went on to suggest: ‘Most of his poems appear to deal with a single all-inclusive topic: the desperate chaos, social, religious, philosophical and psychological, of modern life, and the corresponding chaos and desperation of John Berryman ...

Glittering Fiend

Ian Hamilton: John Berryman, 9 December 1999

Berryman's Shakespeare 
edited by John Haffenden.
Farrar, Straus, 396 pp., $35, February 1999, 0 374 11205 3
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John Berryman’s Personal Library: A Catalogue 
by Richard Kelly.
Lang, 433 pp., £39, March 1999, 0 8204 3998 3
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... In one of John Berryman’s more lucid dream songs (No. 364), there is amusing reference to the reading habits of Henry, the song sequence’s screwed up protagonist: O Henry in his youth read many things he gutted the Columbia – the Cambridge libraries – Widener – Princeton – the British Museum – the Library of Congress but mostly he bought books to have as his own cunningly, like extra wings ...

All the girls said so

August Kleinzahler: John Berryman, 2 July 2015

The Dream Songs 
by John Berryman.
Farrar, Straus, 427 pp., £11.99, October 2014, 978 0 374 53455 4
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77 Dream Songs 
by John Berryman.
Farrar, Straus, 84 pp., £10, October 2014, 978 0 374 53452 3
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Berryman’s Sonnets 
by John Berryman.
Farrar, Straus, 127 pp., £10, October 2014, 978 0 374 53454 7
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The Heart Is Strange 
by John Berryman.
Farrar, Straus, 179 pp., £17.50, October 2014, 978 0 374 22108 9
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Poets in their Youth 
by Eileen Simpson.
Farrar, Straus, 274 pp., £11.50, October 2014, 978 0 374 23559 8
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... As John Berryman​ tells it, in a Paris Review interview conducted in 1970, he was walking to a bar in Minneapolis one evening in the mid-1950s with his second wife, Anne, the two of them joking back and forth, when Berryman volunteered that he ‘hated the name Mabel more than any other female name ...

Two Americas and a Scotland

Nicholas Everett, 27 September 1990

Collected Poems, 1937-1971 
by John Berryman, edited by Charles Thornbury.
Faber, 348 pp., £17.50, February 1990, 0 571 14317 2
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The Dream Songs 
by John Berryman.
Faber, 427 pp., £17.50, February 1990, 0 571 14318 0
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Poems 1959-1979 
by Frederick Seidel.
Knopf, 112 pp., $19.95, November 1989, 0 394 58021 4
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These Days 
by Frederick Seidel.
Knopf, 50 pp., $18.95, October 1989, 0 394 58022 2
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A Scottish Assembly 
by Robert Crawford.
Chatto, 64 pp., £5.99, April 1990, 0 7011 3595 6
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... in the subject itself. A poet’s earliest efforts are usually marred by self-consciousness and John Berryman’s are no exception to the rule. For most poets, however, finding a distinct and convincing voice is, at least in part, a process of shedding unwanted affectations and exaggerated self-importance. For ...

In Coleridge’s Bed

Ange Mlinko: Dead Poets Road Trip, 20 April 2017

Deaths of the Poets 
by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts.
Cape, 414 pp., £14.99, February 2017, 978 0 224 09754 3
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... disembodied voiceover as we accompany the poets to Minneapolis’s Washington Avenue Bridge, where John Berryman jumped to his death; the White Horse Tavern, where Dylan Thomas supposedly drank the 18 whiskeys that killed him; 23 Fitzroy Road, where Plath laid her head on a folded towel in the gas oven; Missolonghi, per Byron; Rome, to the Keats-Shelley ...

A Form of Words

Paul Batchelor, 18 April 2019

... And if I had to do it all again          I wouldn’t.          John Berryman said that: I’m not saying it. And just as, when those two blokes came to replace the boiler, and asked would I like to pay cash and I said ‘Nee probs’ –          and watched them carry gear in from the obligatory once-white ...

Skinned alive

John Bayley, 25 June 1987

Collected Poems 
by George Barker, edited by Robert Fraser.
Faber, 838 pp., £27.50, May 1987, 0 571 13972 8
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By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept 
by Elizabeth Smart, introduced by Brigid Brophy.
Grafton, 126 pp., £2.50, July 1987, 0 586 02083 7
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... exactly proper to an important occasion. Nearly forty years later he was writing on the suicide of John Berryman with just the same suitability. I have heard the sigh Of Berryman as he Exhaled his everlast- ing breath and leaped out- ward and down. That sigh hangs in the air I breathe for ever and will hang. Fellow ...

Main Man

Michael Hofmann, 7 July 1994

Walking Possession: Essays and Reviews 1968-1993 
by Ian Hamilton.
Bloomsbury, 302 pp., £20, May 1994, 0 7475 1712 6
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Gazza Italia 
by Ian Hamilton.
Granta, 188 pp., £5.99, May 1994, 0 14 014073 5
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... too. Greetings, borrowers. What I admire – not the word – about the poems is their intensity. John Berryman once said: write as short as you can, in order, of what matters. Surely no one – least of all Berryman himself – can have fulfilled the terms of that prescription as scrupulously as Hamilton. The majority ...

Broadening Ocean

Brad Leithauser, 3 March 1988

Natural Causes 
by Andrew Motion.
Chatto, 57 pp., £4.95, August 1987, 9780701132712
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A Short History of the Island of Butterflies 
by Nicholas Christopher.
Viking, 81 pp., $17.95, January 1986, 0 670 80899 7
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... poetry at the moment seem so far apart? It was not so long ago that figures like Lowell and Berryman and Plath were integral to the English poetry scene, that writers like Larkin and Graves and Dylan Thomas seemed familiar voices in America. (And it was not so many years before that when Auden and Eliot managed to scumble the boundaries of nationality ...

A Hammer in His Hands

Frank Kermode: Lowell’s Letters, 22 September 2005

The Letters of Robert Lowell 
edited by Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 852 pp., £30, July 2005, 0 571 20204 7
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... the impossibility, for him, of Williams’s kind of free verse, and his stubborn anti-Europeanism. John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate had special claims on him. As a young man Lowell had fled Harvard to seek instruction from Ransom and Tate in Tennessee and at Kenyon College, Ohio. Tate, the stronger influence, saw himself as a sort of poetic father, assuming an ...

Just off Lexham Gardens

John Bayley, 9 January 1992

Through a Glass Darkly: The life of Patrick Hamilton 
by Nigel Jones.
Scribner, 408 pp., £18.95, December 1991, 0 356 19701 8
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... whereas Corvo or Lowry, Hamilton or Conrad Aitken, and maybe poets like Dylan Thomas and John Berryman of more recent date, are celebrated inside their own time-warp, relished as creatures of their epoch. A disillusioned devotee is the worst that can happen to them; and although I enjoyed rereading Twenty Thousand Streets and reviewing it in ...
The ego is always at the wheel 
by Delmore Schwartz.
Carcanet, 146 pp., £6.95, May 1987, 0 85635 702 2
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A Nest of Ninnies 
by John Ashbery and James Schuyler.
Carcanet, 191 pp., £10.95, June 1987, 0 85635 699 9
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... type of lordly self-belief, nor with the obsessive thirst for fame that motivated a poet like John Berryman. His literary career is often compared pityingly with their astute professionalism, as if, authentic poète maudit though he was, he never quite got the marketing right. Certainly he never managed to create out of his sufferings the suspense of ...

Door Closing!

Mark Ford: Randall Jarrell, 21 October 2010

Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy 
by Randall Jarrell.
Chicago, 277 pp., £10.50, April 2010, 978 0 226 39375 9
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... to commit suicide, but the coroner decided it was an accident. While the premature deaths of, say, John Berryman and Delmore Schwartz and Sylvia Plath seemed somehow implicit in the trajectory of their careers, there was nothing remotely maudit about Jarrell, until the last couple of years of his life, when the approach of his 50th birthday induced a bout ...

A Match for Macchu Picchu

Christopher Reid, 4 June 1981

Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu 
by John Felstiner.
Stanford, 284 pp., $18.50, December 1980, 0 8047 1079 1
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The Oxford Book of Verse in English Translation 
edited by Charles Tomlinson.
Oxford, 608 pp., £12.95, October 1980, 0 19 214103 1
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... John Felstiner’s Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu is an unusual, honest and enterprising book, but ultimately something of a disappointment. Its title suggests a book-lover’s pilgrimage, an intellectual adventure of the order of, say, The Quest for Corvo or The Road to Xanadu. A great deal of the pleasure it offers derives from the openness – rare in the academic field, where positions tend to be held with entrenched fervour – that the author permits in telling of his unique journey ...

Other Poems and Other Poets

Donald Davie, 20 September 1984

Notes from New York, and Other Poems 
by Charles Tomlinson.
Oxford, 64 pp., £4.50, March 1984, 0 19 211959 1
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The Cargo 
by Neil Rennie.
TNR Productions, 27 pp., January 1984
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Collected Poems 1943-1983 
by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 383 pp., £14.95, April 1984, 0 85635 498 8
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... took him on their list (induced in the first place – let credit be given where it’s due – by John Press). He insists, and he has the right to insist, that he is as authentic a voice of modern Britain as Philip Larkin is. As some pages of Poetry and Metamorphosis make clear, the Britain that Tomlinson speaks for is one that most of us, gratefully or ...

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