Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman

Paul L. Mariani, Author William Morrow & Company $29.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-688-05026-9
This is not a critical biography of Berryman, and readers not familiar with the pulsations and contortions of his poetry might wish that it were. Here, however, is the man, by turns kind, arrogant and belligerent; obsessed with poetry, women and his father's early suicide; a compulsive alcoholic with a self-destructive streak that drove him to suicide in 1972 at age 58. Berryman lived at the very heart of the Anglo-American literary world, associating with the likes of Mark Van Doren, E. P. Blackmur, Delmore Schwartz, Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell, T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas and W. H. Auden. He possessed a dynamic if sometimes outrageous presence, and was by all accounts a spellbinding teacher. Although he found his poetic voice late and never quite achieved the resonant Yeatsian simplicity he seems to have been looking for, his poetry earned praise and prizes, particularly his autobiographical epic The Dream Songs. In this hefty, copiously researched book, Mariani, biographer of William Carlos Williams, brings us to a closer understanding of the man behind and within the work. Photos. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/30/1990
Release date: 02/01/1990
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