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John Berryman

Centenary Essays


Edited By 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 Making extensive use of unpublished archival sources, personal reflections by friends and former students of the poet are accompanied by meditations on Berryman’s importance for writers today by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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4. Berryman’s Mischief (Edward Clarke)


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4    Berryman’s Mischief


I do not think of Berryman’s achievement so much as his mischief. Behind the noun ‘mischief’ is the verb ‘mischieve’, which brings out the common root of mischief and achievement. Mischieve is made out of ‘mis-’, which has the sense of ill, wrong, improperly, and ‘chieve’, which is from an Old French word chef, meaning head. ‘Chieve’ means to succeed, prosper, thrive, flourish, to make or win one’s way, to bring to an end or issue, to finish, accomplish, perform, achieve. To achieve today is to do all of the above, and more so, the addition of the prefix ‘a-’, expressing addition or increase. To mischieve is to afflict or overwhelm with misfortune, to destroy or ruin, to inflict injury or loss upon, to do harm or damage and also to suffer harm or injury, to meet with misfortune, to come to grief, as well as to abuse or slander.1

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