Thursday, November 11, 2004

Mr. Mayhew has been talking about Karl Shapiro (a former prof of his) and others of that generation of poets: what he calls "that Lowell/Jarrell/Berryman/Schwartz generation." I've never read any Shapiro, though I did pick up an old harcover of his Essay on Rime somewhere and may give it a look one of these days. But I'd just like to speak up for the relevance some of these poets have to me personally, especially Berryman. He was a big influence on me: he was the first poet I read who promiscuously allowed other poets' writing (Shakespeare especially but also Eliot and Yeats) shine between the letters of his, teaching me that one's sheer love for literature was itself the primary means for producing it. And I loved the vigorous combination of dialects, the expression of multiple voices within the flexible but still recognizable form of The Dream Songs. Also, his habit of including and addressing other poets, political figures ("The Lay of Ike"!), and so forth in his writing served to warm me up for the same kind of casual address signifying poetic fraternity in poets like Ted Berrigan. And I did and still do groove on that kind of mid-century Freudianism when it's expressed so freshly and urgently—which is why I also have a soft spot for Delmore Schwartz. The whole id-ego-superego arrangement may be old hat to us nowadays, but he made that model of the mind come alive for me in funny, lusty, abject poems like Dream Song #4: Prufrock with an erection:
Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken paprika, she glanced at me
Fainting with interest, I hungered back
and only the fact of her husband & four other people
kept me from springing on her

or falling at her little feet and crying
'You are the hottest one for years of night
Henry's dazed eyes
have enjoyed, Brilliance.' I advanced upon
(despairing) my spumoni. —Sir Bones: is stuffed,
de world, wif feeding girls.

—Black hair, complexion Latin, jeweleed eyes
downcast ... The slob beside her     feasts ... What wonders is
she sittingon, over there?
The restaurant buzzes. She might as well be on Mars.
Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.
—Mr. Bones: there is.
Berryman continues to attract me because he found a way to be personal ("confessional," if we must) without sacrificing formal intensity; the Lowell that others found so innovative mostly bores me because the verse is slack. I much prefer the rocky, Anglo-Saxon rhythms of "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket" to anything in Notebook. Jarrell: well, mostly I know Jarrell from his essays. But reading a bit of Steve Burt's book on him has made me a little more curious about the poetry. Berryman is essential, though. I plan to teach him every chance I get—maybe in a course with My Life. Wouldn't that be something?

1 comment:

Josh Hanson said...

Synchronicity abounds.

I was just reading a selection of Berryman's dream songs last night while the girls were splashing around in the bath, and was thinking how strange and wonderful they are, and how enjoyable.

Like Pound meant to be read.

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