Tuesday, January 6, 2009

John Berryman Poetry Celebration

I just became a fan of John Berryman on facebook, and am so glad to see that he has hundreds of other fans (a modest 462 at this count). Andreas and I have been combing the web for his works, and so many have fallen into obscurity, just when we need Berryman the most. I believe there will be a Berryman revival.

So imagine my delight when I found the John Berryman Poetry Celebration on facebook, via actor Ben Kreilkamp. Ben has a letter in the on-line New York Times today, about the situation in Gaza. He recently played Herod (and a bison) in Natividad at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, during the Christmas season.

The party is coming right up, on January 9th, and I won't (alas) be able to attend. But I think we should all dedicate more time to having parties for departed poets. This one sounds amazing. One confirmed guest is Katherine Lanpher, author of Leap Days: Chronicles of a Midlife Move. Katherine used to be co-host of "The Al Franken Show" – I'm hoping the Berryman Party will help take her mind off the nerve-wracking Senate race crawling along in Minnesota.

Here are the details about that party, given by Twin Cities photographer Sean Smuda (that's his photo with the flowers). Facebook calls it a global event.

My Friends,

Please stop by Friday January 9th at 10:30 pm for a celebration of poet John Berryman's life and work. Poets Paul Dickinson, Dessa, Dobby Gibson, actress Sally Wingert (of the Guthrie) Steve Marsh, myself, Johnny Swardson, Ehsan Alam, Juan Antonio del Rosario,Geoff Herbach and Jen March of Electric Arc Radio and others will work their way through his 77 Dream Songs. Carol Johnson's 1974 half hour Berryman documentary, "I Don't Think I Will Sing Anymore Just Now" will also be screened. This all takes place following Dobby Gibson's book release party for Skirmish, his latest collection of poems at the Loft (at 7pm).

Cheers, Sean Smuda

2948 Chicago Av S Buzzer #08

street parking or in the MN Jobs lot across Lake St

Beverages will be available for donation

Here is a video of Berryman reading in Dublin.


Lyle Daggett said...

John Berryman ended his life (in January 1972) the year I was in the Urban Arts Poetry and Songwriting class. One of the other students in the class especially liked Berryman's poetry.

A couple of years later I met a man, a local theatre actor, who had seen Berryman jump, or very nearly did.

The man was walking on the Washington Avenue bridge, and casually noticed an older man standing by the railing. He didn't pay close attention, was looking off in another direction, then he saw several people running toward where the man had been standing. It was in fact John Berryman, and he had just jumped from the bridge.

It was at the West Bank end of the bridge, on the north side -- on the river bank below that part of the bridge were huge piles of coal that the University kept there in the winter for heating the buildings. The man who described this to me specifically mentioned the coal piles.

Somebody else I met a couple of years after that, a woman who had been a student at the U. in the early 1970's, told about seeing Berryman sometimes, a solitary man in a seersucker suit and bow tie, sitting alone drinking coffee at the counter in Bridgeman's in Dinkytown. This would have been sometime during the last year or so of his life.

Don't know if you've ever read Poets in Their Youth by Eileen Simpson, Berryman's first wife (and a writer herself). It's her memoir of their life together, in the late 1940's and early 1950's, and of many of the poets and writers and other people in their life during those years. I found it deeply sympathetic and compelling, it shed much light for me on the poetry world in the United States during that time. Includes some marvelous photographs.

The word verification word for this comment (I'm not making this up) is "cults."

elena said...

Hello Lyle,

Thank you so much for your post. As it happens, I just finished reading Eileen Simpson's book, and the words you chose to describe it strike me as perfect: deeply sympathetic and compelling. I plan to write more about that soon.

Berryman is one of the powerful ghosts haunting Dinkytown, the Washington Avenue Bridge, and Ford Hall. I think he is kind, compassionate, anguished, and inhabited by his own many ghosts. I am learning a lot from him these days.