Posts filed under ‘John Berryman’

So Long? Stevens

John Berryman

Listen (to Hoon read)

He lifted up, among the actuaries,
a grandee crow. Ah ha & he crowed good.
That funny money-man.
Mutter we all must as well as we can.
He mutter spiffy. He make wonder Henry’s
wits, though, with a odd

…something…something…not there in his
flourishing art.
O veteran of death, you will not mind
a counter-mutter.
What was it missing, then, at the man’s heart
so that he does not wound? It is our kind
to wound, as well as utter

a fact of happy world. That metaphysics
he hefted up until we could not breathe
the physics. On our side,
monotonous (or ever–fresh)—it sticks
in Henry’s throat to judge—brilliant, he seethe;
better than us; less wide.

– from: “The Dream Songs”, #219
Hoon adds,
An equivocating eulogy, saying almost as much about the author as the one eulogised, but perhaps this is in keeping with Stevens’ own solipcism — as well as his rugged commitment to truth, and against self-delusion.

The actuaries alludes to Stevens’ employment in the insurance business. An attorney, he rose to the position of vice-president at Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. The grandee crow, of course, refers to his poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (although given Berryman’s penchant for drinking it may also be an allusion to Old Crow bourbon whiskie as well).

What was it missing, then, at the man’s heart so that he does not wound?

While bringing Barryman’s own troubles into the circle of the poem, it also points out a problem that many readers have with Stevens’ style. Its abstractness, lack of references to other people inhabiting the universe, interpersonal relationships, love. This is a valid point. Perhaps any particular style cannot possibly suffice to fulfill all of one’s literary interests and desires. History gives us what it has.

A point of fact though, Stevens could wound. He got into a fight with Hemingway once in Key West. It was mainly Stevens, though, who got wounded; needing to take extra vacation time to allow his face to heal. Although Stevens was a large man, he was in his fifties at the time and Hemingway was twenty years his younger. Drinking was undoubtably involved.

August 24, 2007 at 8:24 pm 2 comments

‘The Prisoner of Shark Island’ with Paul Muni

John Berryman


Henry is old, old; for Henry remembers
Mr Deeds’ tuba, & the Cameo,
& the race in Ben Hur,—The Lost World, with sound,
& The Man from Blankey’s, which he did not dig,
nor did he understand one caption of,
bewildered Henry, while the Big Ones laughed.

Now Henry is unmistakably a Big One.
Fúnnee; he don’t féel so.
He just stuck around.
The German & the Russian films into
Italian & Japanese films turned, while many
were prevented from making it.

He wishing he could squirm again where Hoot
is just ahead of rustlers, where William S
forgoes some deep advantage, & moves on,
where Hashknife Hartley having the matter taped
the rats are flying. For the rats
have moved in, mostly, and this is for real.

Yet another poem about the nostalgia for old movies. Except this one comes to you in the exuberant and inimitable voice of John Berryman. Berryman’s Dream Songs rank among my favorite works of poetry from the last century – a collection of poems so exquisitely inventive, so casually lyrical, so enthusiastic in their engagement of language that they seem almost drunk with it, so brimming with the wit and rhythm, energy and sweetness that they should, rightfully, be classified as jazz.


P.S. The trailer for John Ford’s ‘Prisoner of Shark Island’ here.

July 23, 2007 at 12:50 pm Leave a comment