John Berryman saw birthdays as imaginative opportunities. Lecturing at Princeton in March 1951, he pictured Shakespeare on his 30th birthday. “Suppose with me a time, a place, a man who was waked, risen, washed, dressed, fed, congratulated, on a day in latter April long ago,” he began, “about April 22, say, of 1594, a Monday.” A birthday is a chance to greet across time: to hail a predecessor. In a late poem, Berryman addressed Emily Dickinson. It is December 10, 1970, and in “Your Birthday in Wisconsin You Are 140” he raises his glass to her. “Well. Thursday afternoon, I’m in W——,” he writes, “drinking your ditties, and (dear) they are alive.” A birthday is a moment of invention. The climax of his long poem “Homage to Mistress Bradstreet” is a violent, beautiful childbirth. “No. No. Yes! everything down / hardens I press with horrible joy down,” shouts Anne. “I did it with my body!” Close to the end of The Dream Songs, the cycle for which Berryman is best known, he writes: “Tomorrow is his birthday, makes you think.” John Berryman was born in McAlester, Oklahoma, on October 25, 1914, and this year marks his centenary.
Read on - a rich article all about Berryman and his major works - HERE
"Dream Song 76 (Henry's Confession)"
Nothin very bad happen to me lately.
How you explain that? —I explain that, Mr Bones,
terms o' your bafflin odd sobriety.
Sober as man can get, no girls, no telephones,
what could happen bad to Mr Bones?
—If life is a handkerchief sandwich,
in a modesty of death I join my father
who dared so long agone leave me.
A bullet on a concrete stoop
close by a smothering southern sea
spreadeagled on an island, by my knee.
—You is from hunger, Mr Bones,
I offers you this handkerchief, now set
your left foot by my right foot,
shoulder to shoulder, all that jazz,
arm in arm, by the beautiful sea,
hum a little, Mr Bones.
—I saw nobody coming, so I went instead.
- John Berryman