If I observed National Poetry Month properly, this blog would turn into all poems all the time. One of my favorite series is John Berryman’s Dream Songs, poems arranged around ordinary events, often spoken to and through an alter-ego named Mr. Bones.
Although Berryman was considered part of the confessional movement, he scorned the idea of being a confessional poet. Considering the number of parallels between his poetry and his life, it’s fairly obvious that Berryman was to some extent reflecting on his own existence, as many authors tend to do. Whether or not he was a “confessional” poet is to be debated, though it seems that Henry, at the same time a narrator and referred to by the narrator, is another one of Berryman’s reflective voices.
Dream Song 4 occurs at a dinner party in which Henry (Berryman) and Mr. Bones muse about the attractiveness of a guest who is unfortunately married to a slob. Bonus points for working in spumoni.
Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken páprika, 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, jewelled eyes
downcast . . . The slob beside her feasts . . . What wonders is
she sitting on, 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.
In retrospect, one of the saddest things about these poems (that also works with the humor to make them so endearing) is Henry/Berryman’s self-despair. Berryman committed suicide in 1972 by jumping off a bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota.