The Poetry of John Berryman (1970) 1/6





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Uploaded on Feb 22, 2010

I ripped this straight from the only existing videotape copy of this astonishing and historically crucial interview. It needs to be shared with the world, not only those with high-end WorldCat accounts. Let the chips fall where they may.

This interview took place on October 8, 1970. Fifteen months later, on January 7, 1972, John Berryman committed suicide by jumping from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was 57.

In this interview, as on the page, Berryman is bristling with life.


Brockport Writers Forum (State University of New York College at Brockport)

Interviewers: William Heyen & Jerome Mazzaro

Produced & Directed for Television by Francis R. Filardo

From John Haffenden's THE LIFE OF JOHN BERRYMAN (1982):

"In October, shortly after beginning another slip [from sobriety], Berryman flew to give a reading and be interviewed on videotape at the State University of New York at Brockport. William Heyen, director of the Brockport Writers Forum, who was his host for a visit lasting two days, found himself awed and agitated by Berryman, whose arrival late on Wednesday 7 October had been preceded by erratic and inconsequential phone calls and travel delays. Immediately after the visit, Heyen took copious notes from having 'felt a sense of history in his presence':

**Beard trimmed, hair not as wild, or high....Charming, disputatious, dominating, brilliant....'I won that round' after destroying someone trying to be friendly. He had a bad foot, pinched or displaced nerve. Went shoeless....In my easy chair Friday morning, stretched out straight, he seemed unreal, his clothes much too big for him, or so it seemed, as though there were nothing under his clothes. And before the reading he came out of the bathroom shirtless, all bone....We did get him to eat: a cup of chicken soup Wed. night; a ham & cheese sandwich Th. noon; a decent dinner Thurs. night. Constant bourbon, water, no ice. 'Mr. Heyen, I'm an alcoholic. I'd like another drink.' I'd say sure.Betrayer, I suppose. He wrote my wife a poem out, which we'll frame: 'After you went to bed, / Your tall sweet husband and I talked all night, / until there was no more to be said' ["John Berryman: A Memoir and an Interview," Ohio Review, Winter 1974].**

"On Thursday morning they conducted the television interview, though Berryman followed his own train of talk rather than oblige Heyen's formal questions. Towards the end, Heyen observed that mental illness seemed to have afflicted Berryman's generation.

**Yes, that's so. To find anything resembling it, you have to look at two generations, at least that I think of offhand: the English poets of the nineteenth century -- Beddoes, Darley, and so on -- and the Soviet poets just after the Revolution -- Mayakovsky and Yessenin. And now! Well, I don't know. I don't know. Some people certainly feel that it's the price you pay for an overdeveloped sensibility. Namely, you know, the door sticks, as I try to open it, it sticks. Okay, so I have a nervous breakdown. The guy at the corner of Fifth and Hennepin, the door sticks, shit, he fixes it and he opens it. No sweat! I've been in hospital for six months! There is an over-development of sensibility, okay, otherwise we couldn't draw; just as a really good carpenter or cabinet maker has a sensitivity, feels differently about wood from the rest of us. It's the price we pay. So every now and then we wind up in hospital, where they find us completely untreatable, and pretty soon they let us go. And we're loose on the body of society again.**

"The deluded and saddening complacency he expressed was soon to be punctured. After another sleepless night, Heyen delivered Berryman to his plane for New York on the Friday morning. After an hour with Robert Giroux and another editor, Michael De Capua, at El Quixote by the Chelsea Hotel, Berryman took the plane back to Minneapolis that night. In a state of acute alcoholic exhaustion, he went 'out of contact' (to use his own phrase) for some hours and turned up only on the Sunday morning; it is impossible to reconstruct his movements in the interim. Confronted in his living-room by his [A.A.] sponsor and by Kate and others, he was admitted once again for treatment at St. Mary's Hospital, where he later reproached himself for being unable to cope with the genuine solicitude of his wife and friends."


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