The Selected Letters of John Berryman

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$39.95  $37.15
Belknap Press
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6.3 X 9.3 X 2.4 inches | 2.7 pounds
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About the Author

John Berryman is a data scientist at EventBrite where he specializes in recommendations and search. He is interested in the potential of integrating semantic understanding into search and discovery applications.
Calista McRae is Assistant Professor of English at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and author of Lyric as Comedy: The Poetics of Abjection in Postwar America.
Philip Coleman is Associate Professor in the School of English and Fellow of Trinity College Dublin. He is author of John Berryman's Public Vision.


This sumptuous selection of John Berryman's letters affords a welcome conspectus of the great poet's life and work, from the protracted apprenticeship to the hard-won triumphs of the mature years, and covering even the brilliant but still underrated narrative of Love & Fame. By turns precocious, histrionic, hilarious, self-tormenting, rivalrous, shrewdly critical, abrasive, and abusive--and always ambitious for his poetry--Berryman in these extraordinary letters is shown to be the consummate craftsman and critic, as well as the hero-worshipper, the generous mentor, the fervent lover, and the tender father.--John Haffenden, author of The Life of John Berryman and coeditor of The Letters of T. S. Eliot
'We asked to be obsessed with writing, ' wrote Robert Lowell in his elegy 'For John Berryman, ' 'and we were.' The dizzying extremes to which that obsession pushed Berryman are on harrowing display in these letters, which oscillate between troughs of alcoholic abjection and peaks of manic creative confidence. Berryman was both a superbly conscientious craftsman and authentically crazed original; the publication of his letters to his gifted circle of friends--a circle that included Saul Bellow, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, and Lowell himself--will reconfigure forever our understanding of mid-century American poetry.--Mark Ford, author of This Dialogue of One: Essays on Poets from John Donne to Joan Murray
A revealing window into the poet's mind and work through his own words...It is well worth the serious attention of any literary scholar.--Publishers Weekly (06/10/2020)
Pre-fax, pre-email, pre-text, here are hundreds of pages of loving and painful letters, of hopeful and disappointed letters, of joyful and death-haunted letters, of cautious and gossipy letters, of merry and hurt letters, of phallic and fatigued letters, of self-deprecating and vain letters, of admiring and critical letters. John Berryman, this great American poet of imagination, love, intellect, and pain, comes into optimistic, crystalline focus.--Henri Cole
Now, in addition to his poetic oeuvre, here are all the letters by Berryman you'll ever want to read...His letters show much wide-ranging thoughtfulness, as in [his] wholly appropriate definition (written to New Yorker editor Katharine White) of originality in poetry...There are comparably fine statements made to Edmund Wilson about Jane Austen's art, or about Mozart's Figaro, or to Robert Frost about Ezra Pound...Perhaps the most useful thing any collection of letters provides is a fresh look at the work of their author.--William H. Pritchard"Wall Street Journal" (09/25/2020)
There is little in Berryman's lettristic oeuvre--and this is no surprise to those who have admired the ambition of the poems--that does not depict the heart in all its convolutions, unsettled, unsatisfied, distracted, petty, combative, conflicted, and, often, sad...It is fair to say that in this case, more than 600 pages of letters amount to a page-turner...It seems that as with many voices of the confessional era of American poetry, it was his to burn this briefly, in real anguish. The Selected Letters well preserves that drama for those still wishing to know.-- (10/19/2020)
Happiness was as transformative for Berryman as suffering, and his accounts of ecstasy and contentment are as wonderful as his depictions of anxiety and despair are piercing...The voice of these letters is recognizably the voice of much of Berryman's poetry. Language was, for him, not functional or utilitarian but a performance medium...[There's] tremendous pleasure and fascination [in] this long-overdue collection. After too long an absence, it is wonderful to see Berryman once again resurrected.-- (10/25/2020)
Though the outer world of politics and civil strife may occasionally intrude, it proves no match for the smoke-filled rooms inside the poet's head...Anyone who delights in listening to Berryman, and who can't help wondering how the singer becomes the songs, will find much to treasure here.--Anthony Lane"New Yorker" (10/12/2020)