John Berryman envisioned his Dream Songs poems to wed “gravity of matter” and “gaiety of manner.” It’s apparently in his notebooks, but I only came across it when I read David Wojahn’s essay on Berryman. I originally just wanted to quote the passage, but this has become a surprising bit of self-examination of my own poetic project at this point in time.
Anyway, Wojahn didn’t write it though, as he quotes from Paul Mariani’s Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman. Mariani, of course, quotes from Berryman himself, and to further the cycle here I am quoting the entire passage Wojahn quoted from Mariani who quoted Berryman himself:
In the process of getting to know John Berryman, I’ve read:
- this interview from The Paris Review, conducted a year before he died and published in an issue that contains an unrelated pleasant surprise: the print publication of one of my favorite Velvet Underground songs (listen and
try fail to read along)
- David Wojahn’s highly-engaging memoir-cum-critical-essay “‘In All Them Time Henry Could Not Make Good’: Reintroducing John Berryman”
- the notes on Berryman and samples of his work on this entry from one of the best reasons I still have for entering the LiveJournal URL on my browser
- what seems to be the complete Dream Songs, from 77 Dream Songs to the beautifully-titled His Toy, His Dream, His Rest
I want to print out all of these, so I can highlight the parts that resonate so strongly with me. “Resonate” is a good word to use: I don’t claim to understand everything Berryman does, but just like with Hart Crane (another poet I’m also reading about these days), there’s something in the work and the life that sings to me.
One more thing (for now):
I’ve only just realized that Michael Robbins’s “Alien Vs. Predator” (one of my favorite contemporary poems) makes what seems a reference to Berryman’s characterization of Rilke as a jerk in “Dream Song 3: A Stimulant for an Old Beast.” I like Rilke’s work a lot, and he was instrumental in getting me interested in poetry, but I must confess I find it hilarious when poets call him a jerk.