- Paperback: 584 pages
- Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press; second edition edition (March 6, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1558490175
- ISBN-13: 978-1558490178
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,416,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dream Song. The Life of John Berryman second edition Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Clearly, this is another definitive work from the author whose biography of William Carlos Williams was nominated for a National Book Award. From Berryman's myriad letters, journal entries, and marginalia, and accounts from family, students, friends, and contemporaries, a picture of the tortured, self-obsessed, and sometimes kind poet emerges. The biographer refrains from imposing a critical view or value judgment on his subject, and his occasional remarks on the poet's difficult personality are amply supported by psychological evidence. Although it incorporates much of Berryman's writing, Mariani's angle on the poet's development is more personalized. This thorough and highly engaging biography will be welcomed by those who admire Berryman's verse and criticism and by those who wish to better understand his stylized, Modernist approach.
- Jean Keleher, Wally Findlay Galleries Lib., Chicago
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
It is a sordid tale of a fathers suicide, a mother of dubious character, and a brilliant son who in the end succumbs to the ravages of the tragic family legacy, and an alcoholism that seemed to both fuel the flame of a his talent, and shorten its lifespan.
In the beginning I did not like the John Berryman who was presented at the start (arrogant and conniving), and I despised the mother. But Berryman won me over. Not just as a poet, but as a professor, an academic (the best sense of the term), and even as a man. The human, and the humane, side of this complex man is revealed and by the end you are sad to see him go, even though you see his untimely demise coming very early on. The mother? Not so much. She turns more into an object of pity, but there is some sympathy for her. By the way, she would be a fascinating subject for her own biography.
Earlier I said that Berryman won me over. That statement deserves a final bit of discussion before closing. The author did an excellent job of providing a narrative, with just enough subjective analysis to keep it interesting. In other words, Paul Mariani stays out of the way, letting the story tell itself, and letting the life and career of Paul Mariani speak for itself. I love good biographies, and I loved this book. I will most definitely read his biography of William Carlos Williams.
His mother, who could maybe spell the word "No," married the paramour.
The paramour adopted the boy. He went from being John Allyn Smith to John Berryman. The kid had his identity taken away before he was in his teens. "John Berryman" was one of the great literary fictions of the 20th century. There WAS no John Berryman--there was someone using that name and forever in search of an identity born in pain and betrayal.
It led him to womanizing...not at all curious given his stepfather's and his mother's histories...to an hysterical disposition...and ultimately--or really for years--into incipient and then full-blown alcoholism.
Berryman jumped off that bridge on January 7, 1972, but he died of drinking. He'd been through detoxes and rehabs but he could never figure out how to stay sober. The compulsion was too strong. Ultimately, I suspect, it was his weapon of choice in a lifelong suicide attempt. The bridge simply ended the quest.
Mariani's book isn't just worth having, it's indispensible to understanding Berryman's work: unless you're one of those New Critical purists (are there any left?) who exclude biography from the study of literary production. There isn't much to say about it except it never bores the reader. Alcoholics are notoriously boring and dull people who repeat the same asininities over and over, but Mariani draws us into Berryman's inner life and shows us as well the effect he had on the people around him. It was not always negative...but when it was, it was appalling.
He also, by the way, shows us a great and difficult poet, not just a horse's ass with a gift for getting into trouble. Mariani's description of how Berryman composed "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet" is worth the price of the ticket.
Mariani brings Berryman to life and what a life Berryman had. Yes, Berryman was self destructive but he was also brilliant. Mariani tells the story in such a poignant way that I found myself looking forward each night to the time I could spend reading this book.
If you like biographies, especially literary biographies, then treat yourself to this book. You might also read Mariani's other books. I read his book about Robert Lowell and that was well done. However, Berryman is my favorite of the two.