More about Berryman

John_berryman Thanks for the interesting comments on John Berryman. Re: the observations by Christa and Jeff, I guess the photo (taken by my father) that I posted with A Berryman House provides a sense of desolation, devastation?

Jeff’s analogy of the Turner painting is interesting in many ways. I’m thinking about the idea of this landscape and it’s inversion, an ocean. JB’s father committed suicide in Oklahoma in a desolate area such as the one in this picture; Berryman’s own suicide involved death by water, albeit frozen. A kind of yin and yang of father/son suicide. Perhaps this is what Jeff was thinking too, and I’m simply unpacking his metaphor.

I remember reading about father/son suicides in relation to JB in my studies. For one thing, the sons of suicidal men have a much higher risk of dying that way too. It’s been a while, but something by A. Alvarez, perhaps it was a chapter of The Savage God, rumbles around in my head as feeling important. In Paul Mariani’s Berryman biography, Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman, the specters of alcoholism and manic depression appeared in the foreground, not the background, of the picture he paints.

In The Dream Songs, Berryman is often in elegy mode, both directly for his father and for dozens of male writers, some seen as father figures and others as peers. In #145, he writes,

I cannot read that wretched mind, so strong
& so undone. I’ve always tried. I–I’m
trying to forgive
whose frantic passage, when he could not live
an instant longer, in the summer dawn
left Henry to live on.

There were so many suicides in that generation of poets. There’s a point in Brett Millier’s biography of Elizabeth Bishop in which apparently Bishop survived so many suicidal friends, she found it overwhelming. And who can blame her?


Easter eggs

I think a big part of my motivation as a writer is that I love making things. Truth be told, I still dye Easter eggs every year (sometimes with a niece and nephew to legitimize the process, sometimes not), and it brings me joy. Artwork I’ve done at every age still hangs on the walls in my parents’ home. Something Don Revell said in a recent interview on Here Comes Everybody reverberated with this idea:

Q: How would you explain what a poem is to my seven year old?

A: A poem is something made of words that you enjoy.

I like the Q; I like the A. One positive aspect to being this kind of writer is that it helps me to finish projects. If I am, say, washing the dishes, that drive is not there. But with art, photography, writing, and other creative endeavors, I tend to wrap things up. And when I’m done, I tend to feel pretty good about the process. Which is not to say that I consider my work masterful, necessarily, but if nothing else, art reflects something meaningful (a conflict, emotion, obsession) that felt important to me at that particular time.

Today I’m leaning toward a not-so-intellectual perspective. In Houston it’s a rainy day. I’m glad to be home. My baby is taking a nap. And it is still no less than amazing to me that I could be typing words and seconds later you will be able to read them on the world wide web. Blog on.

“blue: the sea, the sky, the unknown”

tenderness_shore"blue: the sea, the sky, the unknown"

a stone to pound open green
almond husks — white inside

the seed inside the seed

finding the moon reflected in waves

. .

another mystery: the deep blue
sea made of clear water

how our eyes create love

by Meredith Stricker, from tenderness shore
© Meredith Stricker


Christa’s post has encouraged me to keep adding to my own story, so here’s a little more of it. After the 2 semesters of freshman English I was really at a loss. By hunting for orange spines or skinny books, I was often able to find some kind of poetry, but I didn’t know a soul who shared my interest.

I carried around a slim volume of poetry for pretty much the entire year. The school I chose to attend was not known as a breeding ground for all things literary, and I don’t recall luring in a single fish with my chosen book-bait, Pieces by Robert Creeley. But by the time I returned it to the campus library, it was soft from my constant revisitations.

20 years later Creeley did a reading in Houston and agreed to visit a group of kids involved with Writers in the Schools (WITS), the organization I work for. The high school students who met with him attend a performing arts program, and they had some great questions. Some asked about writing, but many steered the conversation toward their own chosen art form, so he talked about jazz musicians, painters, and collaboration. I got a big kick out of the fact that he somehow managed to mention being in prison three times.

After the Q & A, I told Creeley the story about how I toted his book around New Orleans for a year. He asked me, “Which one of my books did you carry?” When I told him, he said that was an excellent choice and gave me a kiss on my cheek.

Orange Spines

The latest issue of FENCE magazine reminded me of this. After my freshman English course, I had pretty much completely cruised the poetry selection in the Norton anthology. I was not sure how to proceed. I had developed an appetite for poetry but wasn’t sure where to go get seconds. I decided that the slim books with the orange spines tended to be good choices. When in doubt, I relied on the good editors at Penguin to steer me on. If Creeley mentioned Olson, I’d look him up in the library. And so on. We all start somewhere.

How to Stay Curious

I’ve been considering the possibility of starting a blog about all-things-poetry for many months now. It’s not that I think I have the answers. Or even the questions. I’m not looking for a soapbox. But I am interested in the blog as zocolo, as town square, a place of exchange and conversation.

I attended two grad programs in creative writing, and the thing that struck me then and now is that the conversations both in class and outside of class were sensational. I can remember sitting in the private room at the Brown Bottle (Iowa City) listening to my friends Stephanie Brown and Jeff Hamilton talking about Lester Bangs, People magazine, and the new formalists all at the same time and thinking, This is really something. Twenty years later I feel exactly the same way.

Great conversations are getting rare. In her book, turning to one another, Margaret Wheatley argues for a renaissance of the conversation. She outlines the norms that must exist for honest conversation to take place. My favorite one is, “We must stay curious about one another.”

There’s so much to talk about. Let’s begin the begin.