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The Heart Is Strange: New Selected Poems
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The Heart Is Strange: New Selected Poems

by John Berryman, Daniel Swift (Editor)
 

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John Berryman was perhaps the most idiosyncratic American poet of the twentieth century. Best known for the painfully sad and raucously funny cycle of Dream Songs, he wrote passionately: of love and despair, of grief and laughter, of longing for a better world and coming to terms with this one. The paperback edition of The Heart Is Strange has been

Overview

John Berryman was perhaps the most idiosyncratic American poet of the twentieth century. Best known for the painfully sad and raucously funny cycle of Dream Songs, he wrote passionately: of love and despair, of grief and laughter, of longing for a better world and coming to terms with this one. The paperback edition of The Heart Is Strange has been updated to include a selection from the Dream Songs alongside poems from across his career.

The Heart Is Strange shows Berryman in all his variety: from his earliest poems, which show him learning the craft, to his breakthrough masterpiece, "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet"; then to his mature verses, which find the poet looking back upon his lovers and youthful passions; and finally to his late poems, in which he battles with sobriety and an increasingly religious sensibility.

The defiant joy and wild genius of Berryman's work has been obscured by his struggles with mental illness and alcohol, his tempestuous relationships with women, and his suicide. This volume celebrates the whole Berryman: tortured poet and teasing father, fiery lover and melancholy scholar. It is a perfect introduction to one of the finest bodies of work yet produced by an American poet.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Berryman is arguably the most irreverent and inventive . . . of the confessional American poets that emerged in the late 1950s and early '60s . . . [In The Heart Is Strange] you see Berryman's voice and tics develop--his playful use of grammar and nonsense words, his contrasts of comedy and despair, his intimate style.” —Andrew Travers, The Aspen Times

“It is thrilling, if sometimes unnerving, to be in the presence of an antic imagination. This same imagination is reflected beautifully in Berryman's distinctive body of work … A new collection of selected poems, The Heart Is Strange, judiciously edited and introduced by Daniel Swift . . . give[s] us an opportunity to see afresh what he made of his careening journey through our literary landscape.” —Christopher Merrill, Los Angeles Review of Books

“What he is most remembered for, though there are glories in his other work, is The Dream Songs, which you could think of as a poème-fleuve: he found (and there is an American tradition of this stuff going back to Whitman) an expansive, accretive, flexible open form that allowed him to somehow drift net the jetsam of a life and the flotsam of his place in the century . . . Berryman is (relatively) unusual among poets because he's funny. Daniel Swift, who has edited some handsome centenary reissues of Berryman's work for Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the US . . . suggests that his status as a minor major poet--his not quite getting his due--is in part down to this. People still don't think funny poets are as important as the non-funny kind. But Berryman is the proper sort of funny: the funny that is involved with heartbreak . . . The Dream Songs is a slapstick Book of Job . . . But funny as Berryman is, he's a poet of mourning . . . You find in him remarkable technical command, deep and riddling allusiveness, killer gags and an antic harlequinade of aspects and personae that recalls Looney Toons as much as it does The Waste Land. But you also find a voice: this character Henry, who is half Berryman and half not, and who lives on the page and speaks to you. The voice looks easy to imitate or parody--with its fractured syntax, its tics and ampersands--but, as many who have tried discover, it isn't . . . Here is poetry that is not only heard: it buttonholes you.” —Sam Leith, The Guardian on John Berryman

“[The Dream Songs are] one of the most audacious (and intimidating) achievements in 20th century American poetry . . . Very few are bold enough to try a feat similar to Berryman's today, and even fewer have actually succeeded in writing poetry that transcends the artless solipsism of workshop verse. In that rarefied latter category belong Patricia Lockwood and Michael Robbins, both of whom are young and profane and unafraid. Their forefather is Berryman, who in Mistress Bradstreet writes from the voice of a 17th century poetess . . . who knows that if you're not writing about longing and dying, you might as well be composing infomercial jingles . . . [Berryman's] is a poetry of anxiety and attention deficit, as earnest as an episode of Glee, as revealingly scattered as the tabs left open on your browser. It is also surprisingly political for a poet who effortlessly channels Sir Thomas Wyatt's lyrical seductions, a poet who often seemed lost in the dim labyrinths of his own mind. Berryman was weirdly attuned to the chaos of the Cold War . . . It can, indeed, be as furious as Charlie Parker bebop, full of what Berryman himself called ‘sad wild riffs.' . . . Reading Berryman is a reminder that poetry is sound, that it should be enjoyed as music, not words alone . . . The best thing one can do for Berryman today is to forget him and to remember his poems.” —Alex Nazaryan, Newsweek on John Berryman

“These books make a fierce little pile. When you aren't looking, they may scald a hole through your bedside table . . . There are excellent things in The Heart Is Strange, among them a remarkable poem called ‘Mr Pou & the Alphabet,' which has not previously appeared among Berryman's published poetry . . . This poem, in its stealthy way, begins to seem like one of the great divorce poems in the English language.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times on John Berryman

“Berryman's own traumas are balanced against the wreckage of his literary generation, which he laments, and the sleaze and rubble of mid-century America, which he assails . . . Among the poets he counted as his peers only Lowell has produced as large a body of work which so vividly spoke to its time and continues to reverberate beyond it.” —Robert Shaw, Poetry on John Berryman

The Times Literary Supplement - Adam Kirsch

Randall Jarrell wrote that a poet was someone who stands outside in storms hoping to get struck by lightning. Berryman, who spent so many years waiting for genius to find him, eventually lured it by making the waiting around, with all its attendant boredom, guilt and vice, the very subject of his poetry . . . [Berryman] used every technique of artificiality - in diction, syntax, allusion, rhythm - to create a voice of shocking honesty and directness; and by achieving this paradox, he liberated himself from the impersonality (itself, perhaps, no more than ostensible) of high Modernism. If we have no poets like John Berryman today, it is not because we are less ingenious than he is, but because our poetry seems to have so much less at stake.
Newsweek Alex Nazaryan

[The Dream Songs are] one of the most audacious (and intimidating) achievements in 20th century American poetry . . . Very few are bold enough to try a feat similar to Berryman's today, and even fewer have actually succeeded in writing poetry that transcends the artless solipsism of workshop verse. In that rarefied latter category belong Patricia Lockwood and Michael Robbins, both of whom are young and profane and unafraid. Their forefather is Berryman, who in Mistress Bradstreet writes from the voice of a 17th century poetess . . . who knows that if you're not writing about longing and dying, you might as well be composing infomercial jingles . . . [Berryman's] is a poetry of anxiety and attention deficit, as earnest as an episode of Glee, as revealingly scattered as the tabs left open on your browser. It is also surprisingly political for a poet who effortlessly channels Sir Thomas Wyatt's lyrical seductions, a poet who often seemed lost in the dim labyrinths of his own mind. Berryman was weirdly attuned to the chaos of the Cold War . . . It can, indeed, be as furious as Charlie Parker bebop, full of what Berryman himself called 'sad wild riffs.' . . . Reading Berryman is a reminder that poetry is sound, that it should be enjoyed as music, not words alone . . . The best thing one can do for Berryman today is to forget him and to remember his poems.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374221089
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
10/21/2014
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
1,228,692
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Heart Is Strange

New Selected Poems


By John Berryman, Daniel Swift

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2015 John Berryman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-53578-0


Winter Landscape

The three men coming down the winter hill

In brown, with tall poles and a pack of hounds

At heel, through the arrangement of the trees,

Past the five figures at the burning straw,

Returning cold and silent to their town,

Returning to the drifted snow, the rink

Lively with children, to the older men,

The long companions they can never reach,

The blue light, men with ladders, by the church

The sledge and shadow in the twilit street,

Are not aware that in the sandy time

To come, the evil waste of history

Outstretched, they will be seen upon the brow

Of that same hill: when all their company

Will have been irrecoverably lost,

These men, this particular three in brown

Witnessed by birds will keep the scene and say

By their configuration with the trees,

The small bridge, the red houses and the fire,

What place, what time, what morning occasion

Sent them into the wood, a pack of hounds

At heel and the tall poles upon their shoulders,

Thence to return as now we see them and

Ankle-deep in snow down the winter hill

Descend, while three birds watch and the fourth flies.

The Disciple

Summoned from offices and homes, we came.

By candle-light we heard him sing;

We saw him with a delicate length of string

Hide coins and bring a paper through a flame;

I was amazed by what that man could do.

And later on, in broad daylight,

He made someone sit suddenly upright

Who had lain long dead and whose face was blue.

But most he would astonish us with talk.

The warm sad cadence of his voice,

His compassion, and our terror of his choice,

Brought each of us both glad and mad to walk

Beside him in the hills after sundown.

He spoke of birds, of children, long

And rubbing tribulation without song

For the indigent and crippled of this town.

Ventriloquist and strolling mage, from us,

Respectable citizens, he took

The hearts and swashed them in an upland brook,

Calling them his, all men’s, anonymous.

. . He gained a certain notoriety;

The magical outcome of such love

The State saw it could not at all approve

And sought to learn where when that man would be.

The people he had entertained stood by,

I was among them, but one whom

He harboured kissed him for the coppers’ doom,

Repenting later most bitterly.

They ran him down and drove him up the hill.

He who had lifted but hearts stood

With thieves, performing still what tricks he could

For men to come, rapt in compassion still.

Great nonsense has been spoken of that time.

But I can tell you I saw then

A terrible darkness on the face of men,

His last astonishment; and now that I’m

Old I behold it as a young man yet.

None of us now knows what it means,

But to this day our loves and disciplines

Worry themselves there. We do not forget.

A Point of Age, Part I

At twenty-five a man is on his way.

The desolate childhood smokes on the dead hill,

My adolescent brothels are shut down

For industry has moved out of that town;

Only the time-dishonoured beggars and

The flat policemen, victims, I see still.

Twenty-five is a time to move away.

The travelling hands upon the tower call,

The clock-face telescopes a long desire:

Out of the city as the autos stream

I watch, I whisper, Is it time . . time?

Fog is enveloping the bridges, lodgers

Shoulder and fist each other in the mire

Where later, leaves, untidy lives will fall.

Companions, travellers, by luck, by fault

Whose none can ever decide, friends I had

Have frozen back or slipt ahead or let

Landscape juggle their destinations, slut

Solace and drink drown the degraded eye.

The fog is settling and the night falls, sad,

Across the forward shadows where friends halt.

Images are the mind’s life, and they change.

How to arrange it—what can one afford

When ghosts and goods tether the twitching will

Where it has stood content and would stand still

If time’s map bore the brat of time intact?

Odysseys I examine, bed on a board,

Heartbreak familiar as the heart is strange.

In the city of the stranger I discovered

Strike and corruption: cars reared on the bench

To horn their justice at the citizen’s head

And hallow the citizen deaf, half-dead.

The quiet man from his own window saw

Insane wind take the ash, his favourite branch

Wrench, crack; the hawk came down, the raven hovered.

Slow spent stars wheel and dwindle where I fell.

Physicians are a constellation where

The blown brain sits a fascist to the heart.

Late, it is late, and it is time to start.

Sanction the civic woe, deal with your dear,

Convince the stranger: none of us is well.

We must travel in the direction of our fear.

Copyright © 2014 by Kathleen Berryman Donahue

Introduction and selection copyright © 2014 by Daniel Swift


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Heart Is Strange by John Berryman, Daniel Swift. Copyright © 2015 John Berryman. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

John Berryman (1914-1972) was an American poet and scholar. He won the Pulitzer Prize for 77 Dream Songs in 1965 and the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize for His Toy, His Dream, His Rest, a continuation of the Dream Songs, in 1969.

Daniel Swift teaches at the New College of the Humanities in London. His first book, Bomber County, was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Guardian First Book award, and his essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the New Statesman, and Harper’s.

Daniel Swift teaches at the New College of the Humanities in London. His first book, Bomber County, was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Guardian First Book award, and his essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the New Statesman, and Harper’s.

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