|It’s the birthday of poet and professor John Berryman, (books by this author) born in McAlester, Oklahoma (1914). He wrote a hundred sonnets based on an affair he had with one of his graduate students, and then he became famous for a book-length poem he wrote to a Puritan woman who’d been dead nearly three centuries.That work, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet, took him five years to compose. He was very meticulous about how he worked on it. He would draft a stanza of the poem in the morning and then stick it under a sheet of translucent paper so that he could see the stanza but not touch it. Then he would sit and stare at it for hours, making notes. When he felt sure he was ready to make the changes, he took out the stanza manuscript, wrote in the corrections, stuck it back under the translucent paper, and stared at it some more. Then, when he was satisfied with the changes, he would type it up. He did one stanza each day like this. After a stanza was done for the day, it was never revised again. His second marriage fell apart during the time he spent composing Homage to Miss Bradstreet, which begins:
“The Governor your husband lived so long
He struggled with alcoholism and depression, and part of his therapy was to keep a journal of his dreams. Many of his dreams made their way into his poetry cycle “Dream Songs.” A batch of these poems, published as 77 Dream Songs (1964), won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize. He wrote nearly 400 “Dream Songs,” all narrated by a middle-aged man named Henry. He wrote, “These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand. / They are only meant to terrify & comfort.”
The first of The Dream Songs begins:
Berryman was a Shakespearean scholar and a professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His books include Love & Fame (1970) and Recovery (1973).
He wrote in “Dream Song 14”:
Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
Reposted from Writer’s Almanac.