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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 Making extensive use of unpublished archival sources, personal reflections by friends and former students of the poet are accompanied by meditations on Berryman’s importance for writers today by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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6. Multiple Impersonalities: T. S. Eliot and John Berryman (Deanna Wendel)


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6    Multiple Impersonalities: T. S. Eliot and John Berryman

During a 1968 interview, John Berryman was asked why he considered The Dream Songs a single poem rather than multiple poems, and he replied, ‘Ah – it’s personality – it’s Henry …. The reason I call it one poem is the result of my strong disagreement with T. S. Eliot’s line – the impersonality of poetry’, noting that ‘it seems to me on the contrary that poetry comes out of personality’.1 Throughout his career, Berryman made such remarks, repeatedly disavowing the depth of his affinity with Eliot; he humorously noted that he ‘refused to meet him on three occasions’, admitting that ‘there was a certain amount of hostility in it, too’.2 He said that even when he purposely took The Waste Land as a model – in his Homage to Mistress Bradstreet – he ended up with a work ‘as unlike The Waste Land as it is possible to be’.3 The question of the reasons underlying Berryman’s presentation of tension between his poetic vision and Eliot’s own grounds this essay. Just how much was Berryman influenced by Eliot, in what sense, and how generative or limiting was that influence? And how did Berryman in turn reinvent or modify Eliot’s work?

It’s difficult to discuss poetic influence without examining Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence as a starting point, particularly because of its historical congruity, in literary criticism, with the moment in which Berryman was writing...

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