Events

John Berryman at 100: A Celebration

General Programming

February 26, 2015 Thursday, 3:00pm–8:30pm EST Barnard Hall, James Room (Room 418), Barnard College
Cosponsors
  • The Poetry Society of America
  • School of the Arts, Columbia University
  • Barnard Women Poets
  • Poets House
Notes
  • Image Credit/Caption: Terrence Spencer

The Poetry Society of America, along with Columbia School of the Arts, Barnard Women Poets, and Heyman Center for the Humanities, host an evening of poetry in honor of John Berryman, 1914–1972. A scholar and professor as well as a poet, John Berryman is best-known for The Dream Songs, an intensely personal sequence of 385 poems which brought him the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. In these he invented a style and form able to accommodate a vast range of material while expressing his turbulent emotions.

The event will start at 3:00pm with panel discussions. Readings of Berryman's work will begin at 7:00pm and go to 8:30pm.

Born John Smith in McAlester, Oklahoma, in 1914, Berryman suffered a great loss at 12 when his father shot himself outside the boy’s window. This event haunted him throughout his life, and recurred as a subject in his poetry. After his mother remarried, John took his stepfather’s name and lived in Massachusetts and New York City.

Berryman graduated from Columbia in 1936, then went to study at Cambridge University for two years on a scholarship. The first of three marriages came in 1942, and six years later he published his first important book of poetry, The Dispossessed. A critical biography of the American writer Stephen Crane followed in 1950. In 1955, after teaching stints at Harvard and Princeton, Berryman took a position at the University of Minnesota, where he remained until his death.

National attention greeted Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1956), a dense, brilliant book-length dialogue with the seventeenth century poet Anne Bradstreet, and intensified with the installments of Berryman’s masterwork, 77 Dream Songs (1964) and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest (1968). These portray “Henry,” an anguished and often-deranged character very much like Berryman. Made up of three six-line stanzas that teem with allusions to past and present events and to literary figures, The Dream Songs display an astonishing variety of poetic resources that include slangy diction and a nervous, fractured syntax. Influenced by the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, psychoanalysis, and Berryman’s beloved Shakespeare, they also stirred controversy by drawing on nineteenth century minstrel shows in which white performers in blackface enacted racist stereotypes.

The frankness of Berryman’s work influenced his friend Robert Lowell and other Confessional poets like Anne Sexton. The poet’s lifelong struggles with alcoholism and depression ended in 1972, when he jumped off a Minneapolis bridge in the dead of winter.

Program

February 26, 2015  Thursday

2:50pm - 3:00pm EDT

Welcome and Introductions

3:00pm - 3:50pm EDT

Discussion Panel I

Rachel Hadas

Professor of English

Rutgers University

Daniel Swift

Assistant Professor

Skidmore College

3:50pm - 4:00pm EDT

Break I

4:00pm - 4:50pm EDT

Discussion Panel II

April Bernard

Associate Professor and Director of Creative Writing

Skidmore College

Henri Cole

Professor

The Ohio State University

A. Van Jordan

Poet

4:50pm - 5:00pm EDT

Break II

5:00pm - 5:50pm EDT

Discussion Panel III

Cathy Park Hong

Faculty

Sarah Lawrence College

Robin Lewis

Provost’s Fellow in Creative Writing & Literature

University of Southern California

Kevin Young

Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English

Emory University

Lawrence Joseph

Poet

6:00pm - 7:00pm EDT

Break III

7:00pm - 8:15pm EDT

Collective Readings
Participants
  • Catherine Barnett Poet
  • April Bernard Associate Professor and Director of Creative Writing Skidmore College
  • Henri Cole Professor The Ohio State University
  • Cornelius Eady Poet
  • Rachel Hadas Professor of English Rutgers University
  • Saskia Hamilton Professor of English and Director of Women Poets at Barnard Program Barnard College
  • Cathy Park Hong Faculty Sarah Lawrence College
  • A. Van Jordan Poet
  • Lawrence Joseph Poet
  • Donna Masini Poet
  • Edward Mendelson Lionel Trilling Professor in the Humanities Columbia University
  • Alice Quinn Executive Director Poetry Society of America
  • Patrick Rosal Assistant Professor Rutgers University
  • Evie Shockley Associate Professor of English Rutgers University
  • Daniel Swift Assistant Professor Skidmore College
  • Kevin Young Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English Emory University
  • Rachel Zucker Adjunct Teacher New York University