Dream song : the life of John Berryman /

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Main Author: Mariani, Paul L.
Format: Book
Published: Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.
Edition:2nd ed. with a new intro.
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Review by Booklist Review

Closely following the publication of Berryman's Collected Poems: 1937-1971 [BKL O 15 89], Mariani's monumental biography of the poet provides an engaging, sensitive portrait of a man as self-destructive and tragic as he was talented and successful. While Berryman received many honors throughout his career--the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in poetry, numerous fellowships and grants, etc.--he also spent a large portion of his life in psychoanalysis, was married and divorced several times, and committed suicide just as his father had during the poet's early childhood. Mariani, the author of William Carlos Williams [BKL O 1 81], outlines the intricacies of Berryman's complex life with respect and objectivity. An exemplary study of one of our leading and often misunderstood poets. To be indexed. --Jim Elledge

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Given the proliferation of biographies, memoirs, and posthumous editions of the middle generation poets--Schwartz, Jarrell, Lowell, and Berryman--it's not surprising that little in this, the second major Berryman biography since his death in 1972, seems new (see E.M. Halliday's John Berryman and the Thirties, 1987). What is fresh is Mariani's ability to weave all the previous material into a neat and eminently readable narrative--the best single volume on Berryman's life and work we're likely to see for some time. Mariani's most dramatic revelation--that Berryman's father might not have committed suicide, but was murdered by his wife--ironically underscores the poet's lifelong obsession with his father's demise, an act of self-destruction (or so he thought) he was to imitate with his own leap from a bridge in Minneapolis, where he was a distinguished professor at the University. But such academic honor came after lots of personal and professional torment. Though Berryman managed a level of literary scholarship far beyond the average poet's ability, he never acquired a Ph.D., thereby forcing himself to scrounge for teaching work at a number of schools, none of which paid him very well. His most important writing, beginning with his ""Homage to Mistress Bradstreet"" and continuing through The Dream Songs, was done relatively late in his career, and brought him acclaim only in his last decade, when the awards (Pulitzer, NBA, etc.) came fast and plentiful. Until then, Berryman eked out a living and labored over his verse while continuing his indulgence in booze and adultery. Obsessed with fame and death, he learned the histrionic manipulation of others at his mother's knee. It follows that he'd be a rotten husband and father, with three wives and three children left behind to give testimony. Mariani spares none of the dark and unappealing sides of the chronically depressed poet, but he also keeps our reason for caring in sight--the achievement of Berryman's poetry. A poet himself, Mariani attends to his subject's search for a distinct poetic voice, which Berryman found in the disrupted syntax and jivey idiom of The Dream Songs, the subject of which was of course mainly himself, thinly disguised by the persona of old ""huffy Henry."" At times choppy, with a day-by-day rehearsal of events, Mariani's otherwise dramatic narrative strikes a perfect balance between life and work. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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