A Berryman House


Here’s my true confession for today. Way back when–almost 20 years ago–I admit that as a student I wrote some sonnets. That is what students do, right? Recently one called “A Berryman House” was published in an online journal.

It’s strange to see your older work getting published. My friend Cynie Cory published American Girl recently, and she told me it felt uncomfortable to her because the poems in the book were so different from what she’s writing now. Although I never write sonnets now and haven’t done so for a long time, for some reason it doesn’t bother me. Perhaps it’s arrogance on my part or some sense that my poems are separate from me, a derivative of my past. Maybe if my publication were a book rather than one poem on a web site, it would register differently in me? Hard to say….

Berryman’s Dream Songs made a huge impact on me as I began writing poems. I inhabited those poems for many years. I dreamt; I sang. I Henryed. So maybe that is why the publication of my not-brand-new poem seems fine with me. It’s not that I like these messages from my past or dislike them either. They just are.

From Dream Song #114:

Mr Past being no friends of mine,
all them around: Sir Future Dubious,
calamitous & grand:
I can no foothood here; wherefore I pines
for Dr Present, who won’t thrive to us
hand over neither hand

from them blue depths nor choppering down skies….

–John Berryman


  1. I still like iambic pentameter. But what does my non-MFA self know?
    I find nothing impresses someone like the gift of a classic, Elizabethan sonnet written just for them!

  2. I like your poem a lot, Robin. Awesome line breaks. And so what that it’s old? I like my old poems now way better than I did when I first wrote them. Like wine, they got better with age. And is that really a picture of a Berryman house?

  3. The picture is not really Berryman’s house. My Dad took the photograph in rural Arkansas. He’s taken millions of photos over his lifetime; this is one of my favorites.

  4. I keep coming back to this R.’s father’s photo, too, which is like an upside down Turner sea. I keep wanting to make something of the fact that Berryman’s father, a suicide, died in Oklahoma — similar landscape. The details surrounding this death are even more gruesome, I fear. But I forget them, and now this photo which seems to literalize something: perhaps Robin’s line, “not that I lack any of the essential stuff.” So much of what is poetry is not in the poem. That’s why I have trouble deciding about the word-list poems you’re luring us with. Are these in (essential) or out (essential)?

  5. I worked in the Berryman archives for several years at U. Minn., in fact, during Mariani’s research on his volume.
    Anyway, Berryman is deep, deep, yet immediate and learned–oh my, learned!– and wickedly funny.
    I adore this sonnet.

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