National Poetry Month

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.

[Dream Songs 1 and 29]

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.

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4 comments for “National Poetry Month

  1. April 2, 2005 at 5:34 pm

    Here’s hoping I win one or both of the local contests I entered this month. That’s horrible of me to say, I know, but I’m not ashamed of enjoying monetary benefit. Time to go read some Mike Kadela.

  2. April 3, 2005 at 10:45 pm

    Since the “Mr. Bones” voice in Dream Songs speaks in black dialect, I always hear that last line as “They is.”

    Dream Song 29 (which you didn’t post, but linked to) is, I think, one of the most haunting lyrics I have ever spent time with, And people who like these and want one more that’s amusing, they might want to try DS 14:

    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.”

    Thanks for the moment with such an underappreciated writer!

  3. April 3, 2005 at 10:51 pm

    Chris: I adore DS29. I chose this one in particular because it’s funny and despairing at the same time. Berryman had a real talent for expressing the manic depression of otherwise banal events.

    I think I’m going to like poetry month this year.

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