A lively sampling from the work of one of the most celebrated and daring poets of the twentieth century
John Berryman was perhaps the most idiosyncratic American poet of the twentieth century. Best known for the painfully sad and raucously funny cycle of Dream Songs, he wrote passionately: of love and despair, of grief and laughter, of longing for a better world and coming to terms with this one. The Heart Is Strange, a new selection of his poems, along with reissues of Berryman's Sonnets, 77 Dream Songs, and the complete Dream Songs, marks the centenary of his birth.
The Heart Is Strange includes a generous selection from across Berryman's varied career: from his earliest poems, which show him learning the craft, to his breakthrough masterpiece, "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet," then to his mature verses, which find the poet looking back upon his lovers and youthful passions, and finally, to his late poems, in which he battles with sobriety and an increasingly religious sensibility.
The defiant joy and wild genius of Berryman's work has been obscured by his struggles with mental illness and alcohol, his tempestuous relationships with women, and his suicide. This volume, which includes three previously uncollected poems and an insightful introduction by the editor Daniel Swift, celebrates the whole Berryman: tortured poet and teasing father, passionate lover and melancholy scholar. It is a perfect introduction to one of the finest bodies of work yet produced by an American poet.
- ASIN : 0374221081
- Publisher : Farrar Straus Giroux; First Edition (21 October 2014)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 179 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780374221089
- ISBN-13 : 978-0374221089
- Dimensions : 15.29 x 2.35 x 23.67 cm
"Berryman is arguably the most irreverent and inventive . . . of the confessional American poets that emerged in the late 1950s and early '60s . . . [In The Heart Is Strange] you see Berryman's voice and tics develop--his playful use of grammar and nonsense words, his contrasts of comedy and despair, his intimate style." --Andrew Travers, The Aspen Times
"It is thrilling, if sometimes unnerving, to be in the presence of an antic imagination. This same imagination is reflected beautifully in Berryman's distinctive body of work ... A new collection of selected poems, The Heart Is Strange, judiciously edited and introduced by Daniel Swift . . . give[s] us an opportunity to see afresh what he made of his careening journey through our literary landscape." --Christopher Merrill, Los Angeles Review of Books
"What he is most remembered for, though there are glories in his other work, is The Dream Songs, which you could think of as a poème-fleuve he found (and there is an American tradition of this stuff going back to Whitman) an expansive, accretive, flexible open form that allowed him to somehow drift net the jetsam of a life and the flotsam of his place in the century . . . Berryman is (relatively) unusual among poets because he's funny. Daniel Swift, who has edited some handsome centenary reissues of Berryman's work for Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the US . . . suggests that his status as a minor major poet--his not quite getting his due--is in part down to this. People still don't think funny poets are as important as the non-funny kind. But Berryman is the proper sort of funny: the funny that is involved with heartbreak . . . The Dream Songs is a slapstick Book of Job . . . But funny as Berryman is, he's a poet of mourning . . . You find in him remarkable technical command, deep and riddling allusiveness, killer gags and an antic harlequinade of aspects and personae that recalls Looney Toons as much as it does The Waste Land. But you also find a voice: this character Henry, who is half Berryman and half not, and who lives on the page and speaks to you. The voice looks easy to imitate or parody--with its fractured syntax, its tics and ampersands--but, as many who have tried discover, it isn't . . . Here is poetry that is not only heard: it buttonholes you." --Sam Leith, The Guardian on John Berryman
"[The Dream Songs are] one of the most audacious (and intimidating) achievements in 20th century American poetry . . . Very few are bold enough to try a feat similar to Berryman's today, and even fewer have actually succeeded in writing poetry that transcends the artless solipsism of workshop verse. In that rarefied latter category belong Patricia Lockwood and Michael Robbins, both of whom are young and profane and unafraid. Their forefather is Berryman, who in Mistress Bradstreet writes from the voice of a 17th century poetess . . . who knows that if you're not writing about longing and dying, you might as well be composing infomercial jingles . . . [Berryman's] is a poetry of anxiety and attention deficit, as earnest as an episode of Glee, as revealingly scattered as the tabs left open on your browser. It is also surprisingly political for a poet who effortlessly channels Sir Thomas Wyatt's lyrical seductions, a poet who often seemed lost in the dim labyrinths of his own mind. Berryman was weirdly attuned to the chaos of the Cold War . . . It can, indeed, be as furious as Charlie Parker bebop, full of what Berryman himself called 'sad wild riffs.' . . . Reading Berryman is a reminder that poetry is sound, that it should be enjoyed as music, not words alone . . . The best thing one can do for Berryman today is to forget him and to remember his poems." --Alex Nazaryan, Newsweek on John Berryman
"These books make a fierce little pile. When you aren't looking, they may scald a hole through your bedside table . . . There are excellent things in The Heart Is Strange, among them a remarkable poem called 'Mr Pou & the Alphabet, ' which has not previously appeared among Berryman's published poetry . . . This poem, in its stealthy way, begins to seem like one of the great divorce poems in the English language." --Dwight Garner, The New York Times on John Berryman
"Berryman's own traumas are balanced against the wreckage of his literary generation, which he laments, and the sleaze and rubble of mid-century America, which he assails . . . Among the poets he counted as his peers only Lowell has produced as large a body of work which so vividly spoke to its time and continues to reverberate beyond it." --Robert Shaw, Poetry on John Berryman
About the Author
Daniel Swift teaches at the New College of the Humanities in London. His first book, Bomber County, was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Guardian First Book award, and his essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the New Statesman, and Harper's.
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