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John Berryman Biography

The biography of John Berryman. This page has biographical information on John Berryman, one of the best poets of all time. This PoetrySoup page also provides access to the poet's poems, best poetry, quotes, and video biographies...if available.

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Berryman, John

Biography | Poems (151)
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An American poet considered one of the founders of the Confessional school of poetry.. American poet and scholar


John Allyn Berryman (originally John Allyn Smith) (October 25, 1914 – January 7, 1972) was an American poet, born in McAlester, Oklahoma. He was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and often considered one of the founders of the Confessional school of poetry. He is one of the figures acting as a bridge between the formally loose, socially aware poetry of the Beats and the personal, grieving poetry of Sylvia Plath. He was the author of The Dream Songs, which are playful, witty, and morbid. Berryman died by suicide in 1972.

Of his youthful self he said, 'I didn't want to be like Yeats; I wanted to be Yeats.'

Berryman's first book was Poems, published in 1942 during the Second World War, and his second was The Dispossessed, which appeared six years later. His first major work was Homage to Mistress Bradstreet in 1956. However, it was the collection of Dream Songs that gathered him the most admiration. The first volume, entitled 77 Dream Songs, was published in 1964 and won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The second volume of Dream Songs, entitled His Toy, His Dream, His Rest, appeared in 1968. The two volumes of Dream Songs were published together as The Dream Songs in 1969. By that time Berryman, though not a "popular" poet, was well established as an important force in the literary world of poetry, and he was widely read among his contemporaries.

The poems that form Dream Songs involve a character who is by turns the narrator and the person addressed by a narrator. Because readers assumed that these voices were the poet speaking directly of himself, Berryman's poetry was considered part of the Confessional poetry movement. Berryman, however, scorned the idea that he was a Confessional poet.

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