In Which John Berryman Can Occupy Your Attention For A Little While I Watch My Peeps Get Married


John Berryman‘s The Dream Songs was slow in making its way into my inspiration rotation. 

As you probably already know:

Berryman’s life was dominated by suicide. In 1926, when the poet was twelve, his father, John Smith, a banker in Florida, shot himself. The poet was the first person to discover the body. After his father’s death, the poet’s mother remarried, and thus he came to his new surname of Berryman. The vision of his father’s suicide haunted John Berryman’s poetic imagination, and the subject is addressed indirectly in the Dream Songs several times and directly once, where the poet wishes that he could kill the corpse of his father. Berryman was an alcoholic, and friends reported that even as a student at Columbia University he was two different people when drinking and sober. As a mature poet, Berryman’s alcoholism and depression interfered with his ability to give readings, to speak in public, and to work appropriately. In 1972, Berryman’s depression led him to follow the example of his father and to kill himself by jumping from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He missed the water and died, not by drowning or trauma, but by smothering, according to the Minneapolis Star, which reported his death.

Here’s a few of my favorites from his classic cycle.


Snow Line

It was wet & white & swift and where I am
we don’t know. It was dark and then
it isn’t.
I wish the barker would come. There seems to be to eat
nothing. I am unusually tired.
I’m alone too

If only the strange one with so few legs would come,
I’d say my prayers out of his mouth, as usual.
Where are his notes I loved?
There may be horribles, it’s hard to tell.
The barker nips me but somehow I feel
he too is on my side.

I’m too alone. I see no end. If we could all
run, even that would be better. I am hungry.
The sun is not.
It’s not a good position I am in.
If I had to do the whole thing over again
I wouldn’t.


I am the little man who smokes & smokes.
I am the girl who does know better but.
I am the king of a pool.
I am so wise I had sewn shut.
I am a government official & a goddamned fool.
I am a lady who takes jokes.

I am the enemy of the mind.
I am the auto salesman and love you.
I am a teenage cancer, with a plan.
I am blackt-out man.
I am the woman powerful as a zoo.
I am two eyes screwed to my set, whose blind–

It is the Fourth of July.
Collect: while the dying man,
forgone by you creator, who forgives,
is gasping ‘Thomas Jefferson still lives’
in vain, in vain, in vain.
I am Henry-Pussy cat! My whiskers fly.



Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
repeatingly ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources’ I conclude now I have no
inner reosurces, because I am heavy bored.
People bore,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.


In a motion of night they massed nearer my post.
I hummed a short blues. When the stars went out
I studied my weapons system.
Grenades, the portable rack, the yellow spout
of the anthrax-ray: inorder. Yes, and most
of my pencils were sharp.

This edge of the galaxy has often seen
a defence so stiff, but it could only go
one way.
–Mr. Bones, your troubles give me vertigo,
& backache. Somehow, when I make your scene,
I cave to feel as if

de roses of dawns & pearls of dusks, made up
by some ol’ writer-man, got right forgot
& the greenesses of ours.
Springwater grow so thick it gonna clot
and the pleasing ladies cease. I figure, yup,
you is bad powers.

You can buy The Dream Songs here. Introduction by our homeboy W.S. Merwin. You know, here, here, here, and here.

The Dream Songs

“Pennies” — The Smashing Pumpkins

“Cigarettes Will Kill You” — Ben Lee

“I Write Down Lists” — Nina Nastasia & Jim White

“Dead + Rural” — Handsome Furs

Handsome Furs myspace.

“I Love You Always Forever” — Donna Lewis


We gave you a groups of links that you shall never forget for all your days on earth.

Our dating correspondent told you the sad tale of a New Hampshire hottie.

Diane Williams is the genius of the western world.


5 thoughts on “In Which John Berryman Can Occupy Your Attention For A Little While I Watch My Peeps Get Married

  1. There sat down, once, a thing on Henry’s heart
    só heavy, if he had a hundred years
    & more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time
    Henry could not make good.
    Starts again always in Henry’s ears
    the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime.

    And there is another thing he has in mind
    like a grave Sienese face a thousand years
    would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of. Ghastly,
    with open eyes, he attends, blind.
    All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears;

    But never did Henry, as he thought he did,
    end anyone and hacks her body up
    and hide the pieces, where they may be found.
    He knows: he went over everyone, & nobody’s missing.
    Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.
    Nobody is ever missing.

  2. Is John Berryman really so boring that you have to put Rihanna’s fivehead and a greasy Scarjo in there to spice it up?

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