One of my New Year’s resolutions is to read more poetry. It’s part of my “Health, Kindness, Activity” initiative where everything I do should be related to one of the three words above. I call it “HKA in 2012”. I like acronyms because I work in education and acronyms are all we have and all we communicate with.
So here’s poem number one, from a volume of John Berryman poems I’m reading. John Berryman was known primarily, to me, as the poet name-checked by both The Hold Steady in “Stuck Between Stations” from their album Boys and Girls in America and by Okkervil River in “John Allyn Smith Sails” from Stage Names. He’s most famous for comminting suicide by jumping off a bridge in Miineapolis-St. Paul and waving on the way down. He was, by most reports, kind of an asshole. Despite graduating with a degree in literature I never read any of his poetry.
His most famous poems were book length: 77 Dream Songs and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest; they were described as Whitmanesque, an adjective he probably hated. It concerns a man named Henry, a white American man sometimes in blackface (?), during which he’s known as Mr Bones. I think I’m reading this correctly. Berryman’s alcoholism is the stuff of legend. This is the 13th poem from 77 Dream Songs:
God bless Henry. He lived like a rat,
with a thatch of hair on his head
in the beginning.
Henry was not a coward. Much.
He never deserted anything; instead
he stuck, when things like pity were thinning.
So may be Henry was a human being.
Let’s investigate that.
…We did; okay.
He is a human American man.
That’s true. My lass is braking.
My brass is aching. Come and diminish me, & may my way.
God’s Henry’s enemy. We’re in business…Why,
what business must be clear.
I couldn’t feel more like it.–Mr. Bones,
as I look on the saffron sky,
you strikes me as ornery.