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John Berryman

Centenary Essays


Philip Coleman and Peter Campion

Drawing on the proceedings of two conferences organized to celebrate the centenary of John Berryman’s birth in 2014, John Berryman: Centenary Essays provides new perspectives on a major US American poet’s work by critics from Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. In addition to new readings of important aspects of Berryman’s development – including his creative and scholarly encounters with Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth and W. B. Yeats – the book gives fresh accounts of his engagements with contemporaries such as Delmore Schwartz and Randall Jarrell. It also includes essays that explore Berryman’s poetic responses to Mozart and his influence on the contemporary Irish poet Paul Muldoon. Making extensive use of unpublished archival sources, personal reflections by friends and former students of the poet are accompanied by meditations on Berryman’s importance for writers today by award-winning poets Paula Meehan and Henri Cole. Encompassing a wide range of scholarly perspectives and introducing several emerging voices in the field of Berryman studies, this volume affirms a major poet’s significance and points to new directions for critical study and creative engagement with his work.

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3. John Berryman’s ‘Poundian Inheritance’ and the Epic of ‘Synchrisis’ (Claudio Sansone)


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3    John Berryman’s ‘Poundian Inheritance’ and the Epic of ‘Synchrisis’

Not only is John Berryman’s engagement with the epic tradition problematized by his nuanced self-stylization as an epic poet, but the importance of Ezra Pound within this process is largely unappreciated. As a result of an inattentive treatment of the epic tradition within Berryman scholarship, parts of his traditional experiments with the epic mode have been treated as radical, while elements of his true radicalism have remained undiscussed. Berryman himself dismissed critics who inclined to ‘act as if originality were not regularly a matter of degree’, when attempting to show that a man’s ‘achievement as a poet [can] finally be extricated from the body of his verse’.1 His statements that ‘what you write is pastiche in the ultimate analysis’ and that poetry ‘is a palimpsest’, demand that tradition be understood as a flexible, complex network, rather than a linear progression conditioned by a series of breakthroughs.2 Brendan Cooper has noted that already in Berryman’s time simple breakthrough narratives had become inoperative to critical work dealing with transmission and tradition.3 Therefore, to discuss Berryman’s ‘Poundian inheritance’, and his epic ambitions, it is necessary to begin with a corrective critical maneuver. ← 47 | 48 →

In 1980, John Haffenden wrote on the epic character of The Dream Songs, identifying various important source texts.4 However, it is redundant to note that The Dream Songs is indebted to a litany of epic sources unless...

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