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27 Jun, 2010

Berryman in Minneapolis; second thoughts…

Last summer I spent about a week in John Berryman’s archives in Minneapolis.
I wrote an essay about the experience for CV2’s last open issue, which you can read an excerpt from
here.

Sifting through Berryman’s manuscripts and correspondence was humbling and fascinating. I still haven’t digested it all. Since writing the essay:

I’ve thought more about the structural origins of The Dream Songs. Now I think Byron’s Don Juan may be as significant as Pound’s Cantos as a model for the Songs. Berryman had read (and remembered) everything, so perhaps it’s too easy to construct an argument for almost any source as significant. But I do think the anti-romantic, confessional dandy of Don Juan is a voice that recurs in The Dream Songs. The verse form bears interesting similarities to Byron’s Don Juan too.

I also regret not spending any time looking at the manuscripts of Berryman’s sonnets. Although he did not initially write these for publication, that fact alone makes them less inhibited than his other early work. They are remarkable not only for anticipating the Songs, but for how they reinvigorate the sonnet itself. You can really hear Hopkins in this work.