An affable, anecdotal memoir of Berryman, Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry in 1965, and his Columbia circle during the 30's;...

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JOHN BERRYMAN AND THE THIRTIES

An affable, anecdotal memoir of Berryman, Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry in 1965, and his Columbia circle during the 30's; by old college friend Halliday. Berryman's gethsemane-touched life conformed to the theory that successful art emerges out of suffering. Thrice-married, alcoholic, mercurial, financially harassed, plagued by mental and physical illness, Berryman finally committed suicide in 1972 by jumping from the Mississippi Bridge in Minneapolis. But Halliday here focuses on a slightly happier Berryman, as seen through the filter of their undergraduate friendship at Columbia during a time when the faculty included Mark van Doren and the student body included Thomas Merton and Robert Giroux. We get a portrait of Berryman as a slightly pretentious, ambitious young New Yorker who became something of a Big Man on Campus, a portrait that echoes Merton's description of the budding young poet in The Seven Storey Mountain. It's hard not to admire Halliday's candor, especially in his generally humorous portrayal of his and Berryman's dogged efforts to become proficient drinkers and womanizers--though there's a darker side to the story, insofar as both preoccupations contributed to a pattern of excess in Berryman's later life. One of the more interesting aspects of this memoir is Halliday's inclusion of some of Berryman's early, previously unpublished poetry, as well as Berryman's letters to Halliday. And, curiously enough, it's Berryman's letters, rather than those early poems, that most closely prefigure the mordant tone and cutting wit of Berryman's mature verse. A welcome addition to the small group of books on Berryman, rounding out the portraits found in David Haffenden's Life of John Berryman and Eileen Simpson's Poets in Their Youth.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1987

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Univ. of Massachusetts Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987