The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘John Berryman’

A Trash-strewn Alley of One’s Own, and Other News

September 27, 2016 | by

Outside Brancusi’s studio on the Impasse Ronsin. © Succession Brancusi - All rights reserved ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

  • Every artist needs an alley—some narrow, weedy, urine-soaked passage to call home. In the Paris of the fifties and sixties, an alley called the Impasse Ronsin was the alley to be: Brancusi, Max Ernst, Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Martial Raysse, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Claude Lalanne all worked in a squalid studio there. (Those last four, as it happens, have all contributed portfolios to The Paris Review.) An exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery opening October 27 will explore the studio’s history. As James McAuley tells it, the artists shared “a single toilet but many beds, cheap food but priceless ideas … It was also on the Impasse Ronsin that, in 1961, Niki de Saint Phalle, a former cover girl, launched her career as an international artist with a literal bang. For her ‘shooting’ canvases, she, along with friends such as Robert Rauschenberg, would fire guns into bags that concealed pockets of paint. This was somewhat of a Ronsin ritual, as Yves Klein had done much the same with the ‘Monotone-­Silence Symphony’ the year before. He had conducted an orchestra as nude women danced covered in blue paint, plastering their bodies on canvas as they twirled. In both cases, what mattered was performance as much as product.”
  • Today in bold solutions for writer’s block: Alan Michael Parker spent a few months “writing and reading as badly as possible,” and he came out on the other side feeling much more assured about his work. Even if he hadn’t, though, the whole exercise sounds like a great way to kill some time: “I worked diligently to figure out what ‘bad poetry’ meant to me, and once I become empowered to disappoint, how I could appall myself in a poem. I felt vicious, intemperate, outrageous, sleazy, hysterical, cantankerous, willful. I made poems with unconscionable and irrelevant leaps, poems with overblown abstractions heaped upon abstractions (who will ever forget ‘the turpitude of forgiveness’?), poems with speakers pronouncing upon every character in sight (because ‘I’ always knows so much better than her or his family), poems with social toxicities heightened further by specious speechifying. I made poems that clanked and thumped, beset by sneaker-in-the-dryer iambs, and conversely, poems that used non-metrical speech oblivious to all considerations of sound, the kinds of poems that deserve to be chopped up, but are too often just divided into lines and called free verse.” 

Read More »

Surrendering to Your Own Maneuvers: An Interview with Jana Prikryl

June 21, 2016 | by


The After Party, Jana Prikryl’s debut collection of poems, is divided in two. In the first half, the reader is mainly in New York, swaying between the modern and the classical, easing between Internet aphorisms and well-dusted literary lives; in half a dozen gently mocking, moving lines in “Ars Poetica,” we find ourselves falling from an observation about Kelly Oxford’s tweets into Arthur Conan Doyle and the history of spiritualism. The collection’s second half switches modes, and we find ourselves engaged with a long, bold sequence of fragments that carry an air of nostalgia. These later poems explore the natural world, the interplay between femininity and masculinity, and a lingering sense of not belonging. Perhaps it’s an odd comparison, but the closing sequence, “Thirty Thousand Islands,” made me think of Matisse and his 1940s cutouts: the preeminent sense of environment, but also the way that techniques of balance and contrast seem to give the work its structure and much of its impact. Read More »


July 27, 2015 | by

Confessional poetry and The Twilight Zone.

A still from “The Masks.”

Who wants to be a confessional poet?

Those we’ve saddled with the label—Lowell, Berryman, Snodgrass, Sexton, et cetera—usually react to it with frustration, if not outright hatred. That should come as no surprise. Most poetic movements are met by some degree of disapproval, or at least discomfort. Writers are practically obliged to deny this critical tendency: how dare we readers, critics, English students, reduce entire books, careers, or generations to a singular term. Maybe writers resent words like confessional, imagist, or even Romantic because they inevitably blur a poet’s individual edges into something bland, familiar, and more easily shared. Or maybe the anxiety stems from the fact that labels like this often hover over living writers like tombstones, as critics prepare to title their chapter in literary history.

For whatever reason, confessional poets really hate being called confessional poets. Several of them have unleashed their outrage in the pages of The Paris Review. For example, Berryman: Read More »

Henry Doesn’t Have Any Bats, and Other News

June 26, 2015 | by


John Berryman

  • In Moscow, a new exhibition remembers Soviet Photo, the USSR’s premier photography magazine. Among its many treasures: gymnasts, factories, eggs … and a picture of Khrushchev and Castro drinking ebulliently from horns.
  • Whither the aphorism? It’s a more popular form than ever—insert obligatory Twitter reference here—but are we using it to its fullest potential? “An aphorism is not a truth but a kind of test (an assay), a statement you are meant to run up against to decide if you agree. If you don’t agree, that is not necessarily a failure of the aphorism. The best aphorisms are not the most true but the most undecidable, those worth endlessly testing.”
  • For that matter, whither the NYPL? It, too, doesn’t seem to live up to its full potential: “The New York Public Library has been under intermittent financial pressure for most of its history, but in the last few years it has been enveloped by a controversy that has exposed the institution to unprecedented public scrutiny. What stands revealed is a library that is abandoning its core mission of research and is losing its way in the digital age.”
  • “Though psychoanalysis didn’t help Berryman’s alcoholism or state of mind, it did serve to open him up to his inner self, and it was amid the rubble of that excavation that he found his alter-ego: messy Henry, destructive Henry, hateful Henry, devious Henry, pathetic, sozzled, recidivist Henry, self-loathing Henry, song and dance Henry, peccant Henry, grab-ass Henry, stricken-with-guilt Henry, Henry the enduring ruin … ‘Henry does resemble me,’ Berryman told an interviewer, ‘and I resemble Henry; but on the other hand I am not Henry. You know, I pay income tax. Henry pays no income tax. And bats come over and stall in my hair—and fuck them, I’m not Henry; Henry doesn’t have any bats.’” August Kleinzahler on John Berryman.
  • At the Beinecke Library, the Yale Collection of American Literature houses innumerable rarities and treasures. It also has those insipid “Cultivating Thought” cups and bags from Chipotle. “As much as it sounds like a joke, it fits into a tradition of American writers trying to reach unusual audiences through unusual (if brief) work—and of libraries collecting their labor.”

Peacock-eating for Poetical Public Relations, and Other News

February 25, 2015 | by


A mural in Switzerland. Photo: Roland zh

  • In a 1914 publicity stunt—back when poets were free to partake of the great PR machine—Ezra Pound, W. B. Yeats, and four others gathered at a luncheon to eat a peacock. “The papers were alerted, and news of the meal spread far and wide, from the London Times to the Boston Evening Transcript.”
  • Karl Ove Knausgaard, your humble correspondent, is traveling across America for The New York Times Magazine: “The editor proposed that I travel to Newfoundland and visit the place where the Vikings had settled, then rent a car and drive south, into the U.S. and westward to Minnesota, where a large majority of Norwegian-American immigrants had settled, and then write about it. ‘A tongue-in-cheek Tocqueville,’ as he put it.”
  • Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Wagner: the Romantic legacy of these composers lives on … in first-person shooters. “The grandiloquent sounds of the nineteenth century are still alive in the new millennium … but only when someone is getting bludgeoned, bloodied, blown-up, or decimated with automatic weapons … Even heavy metal isn’t heavy enough for most composers seeking to juice up their combat scenes. We need something with a little more sturm und drang.
  • Starting to write a book is hard. Then there’s the whole middle part—also difficult. And finally there’s the end, which is no cakewalk, either. Can we learn anything from the last sentences in famous novels? “For writers, the last sentences aren’t about reader responsibility at all—it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to stop worrying about what comes next, because nothing does. No more keeping the reader interested, no more wariness over giving the game away. This is the game.”
  • On rereading Eileen Simpson’s Poets in Their Youth, a 1982 memoir of her turbulent marriage to John Berryman: “For a long time I could not shake the belief that these poets, all of them dead before their time from madness, self-neglect or suicide, paid a noble price for their pursuit of truth and beauty … I don’t think that anymore. Now, it’s Simpson herself who seems to be the hero … Simpson, who became a psychotherapist and went on to publish several books, writes with an almost uncanny clemency and a kind of cerulean objectivity. Where there might have been bitterness there is, instead, compassion.”


Berryman and Yeats Light Up

October 24, 2014 | by

Tomorrow marks the centenary of John Berryman’s birth.


Craven_a_virginia_s_20_h_white_red_with_a_cat_jamaicaI went in and asked for Mr. Yeats. Very much like asking, “Is Mr. Ben Jonson here?” And he came down. He was much taller than I expected, and haggard. Big, though, big head, rather wonderful looking in a sort of a blunt, patrician kind of way, but there was something shrunken also. He told me he was just recovering from an illness. He was very courteous, and we went in to tea. At a certain point, I had a cigarette, and I asked him if he would like one. To my great surprise he said yes. So I gave him a Craven “A” and then lit it for him, and I thought, Immortality is mine! From now on it's just a question of reaping the fruits of my effort. He did most of the talking. I asked him a few questions. He did not ask me any questions about myself, although he was extremely courteous and very kind. At one point he said, “I have reached the age when my daughter can beat me at croquet,” and I thought, Hurrah, he's human! I made notes on the interview afterward, which I have probably lost. One comment in particular I remember. He said, “I never revise now”—you know how much he revised his stuff—“but in the interests of a more passionate syntax.” Now that struck me as a very good remark. I have no idea what it meant and still don't know, but the longer I think about it, the better I like it. He recommended various books to me by his friend, the liar, Gogarty, and I forget who else. The main thing was just the presence and existence of my hero.

—John Berryman, The Art of Poetry No. 16, 1972



An ad for Berryman‘s books from our Winter 1972 issue, in which his Art of Poetry interview appeared.