John Berryman

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John Berryman (October 25, 1914 – January 7, 1972) was an important American poet in the second part of the 1900s. He was born in McAlester, Oklahoma on October 25, 1914.[1] He was seen as one of the chief poets of confessional poetry.

Life[change | change source]

When John Berryman was born in Oklahoma, his name was John Allyn Smith, Jr.. His father was a banker named John Allyn Smith. His mother was a schoolteacher named Martha. When he was ten years old his family moved to Tampa, Florida. In 1926, when he was twelve years old, his father shot and killed himself. This haunted the poet for the rest of his life.

After his father died, his mother married another banker named John. His last name was Berryman. The poet took his father's name, so he ended up with the same last name as his stepfather. They moved to New York City. John was sent to a private boarding school in Connecticut. He went on to graduate from Columbia College.

The book Five Young American Poets had some of his earliest poems alongside other poets like Randall Jarrell. The publisher of this book also published Berryman's first book, Poems. His next book, The Dispossessed, was more mature but received mostly bad reviews. When Jarrell reviewed Berryman's book, he wrote that Berryman's poems sounded too much like William Butler Yeats. Berryman later said, "I didn't want to be like Yeats; I wanted to be Yeats."

In 1947 John Berryman started seeing a married woman while he was married to his first wife. He wrote many sonnets about her, but they were not published until 1967.

In 1950 he wrote a biography of the writer Stephen Crane, who he admired. He also published a book of poems called Homage to Mistress Bradstreet. This book also featured drawings by the artist Ben Shahn. It was his first book to get attention from people all across the United States of America.

Even though Homage to Mistress Bradstreet was successful, Berryman's biggest breakthrough came with 77 Dream Songs in 1964. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965. Berryman wrote a much longer sequel, His Toy, HIs Dream, His Rest. This book was just as successful. He later combined the two into one book, The Dream Songs.

On January 7, 1972, John Berryman killed himself by jumping off the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota.[2]

Poems[change | change source]

Berryman wrote about shame, like mental illness and lust. He said that he was not writing about himself but about made-up people. Despite this remark, many critics believe Berryman did write about himself. John Berryman's best-known poems were called Dream Songs. He put out the 385 Dream Songs in two books: 77 Dream Songs and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest. Later he put them into one book: The Dream Songs.[3]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. William J Martz, John Berryman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969), p. 5
  2. Healy, Steve (September 9, 1998) "John Berryman: The Dreamer Awakes." City Pages.
  3. John Berryman profile at The Poetry Foundation