I had to take a break from Charles Baudelaire’s saucy city lyrics in March of 2013. He’s brilliant, but pleasantries are needed after so many evil flowers. Now that I’ve indulged in pretty William Wordsworth, playful Maya Angelou, and resounding Derek Walcott, is it time to dip back into the sourly darkened pool? Hmmm, well perhaps…
This week I uncovered The Dream Songs by John Berryman.
The loopy, dehydrated voice of an intoxicated Berryman reading “Dream Song 1″ here was just hypnotic. In the recording Berryman’s vocals mixed drowsiness, tattered but distinct meter, hunger, and frustration into a giant, tragi-poetic cocktail. Though the words are powerful and sad, our poet reading them encourages a thorough examination of worldview. You can hear the alcohol in his throat, rising up to meet rested but truthful anger. Understanding life’s meaning, once the reader is knowledgeable of Berryman’s terrible river-launched suicide, will drive him or her to eventually seek relief from chipper writers and deeply comic material. How do people deal with this kind of intimacy otherwise in their reading habits? Catherine Lacey serves the memory of Berryman well in her article, “Henry Doesn’t Have Any Bats” from The Paris Review. She intently follows his work, even offering marked pages of The Dream Songs to strangers in bookstores. Lacey’s response to my question is that she becomes distracted by her curiosity of Berryman, obsessed with knowing more about his life so that she forgets the darkness in her own, or at least has a friend to walk her through it. Isn’t this part of what a poet wants for his or her audience?
Not only that, but his heart-stirring and resurrected audio presentation thrust the words from their page. I see John Berryman’s full, shaggy beard and the thinned, cracked lips reading beneath them. His eyes squint, partially from concentration and partially from dizziness. He is planning to subtly hit on one of his students during the signing. A record by The Doobie Brothers is heard over the bookstore’s speakers. My imagination has a limit regarding the author.
Having both listened to and offered horrible, ill-practiced readings of poetry, I believe my ear is growing nicely. John Berryman along with Angelou, Billy Collins, and Sherman Alexie can chant beauty into the air before them. Their hearts, spirits, and tongues have managed to combine gracefully. I can sit entranced, listening to these men and women talk about a leaf, woman, knife, or Native American reservation for hours at a time.
These auditory treats also intensify the catharsis. My soul hears Berryman’s courageous pain recorded, and feels nastier than when reading about a dog circling a tree in order to find his perfect peeing spot. Such grossness reminds me that we are finite, and awful underneath the stretchy skin. Then it reminds me that we have infinite hope, a daring importance in the eyes of God. This is worth all of the deadly, bloody scraps in Berryman’s poetry. Even the language is confused and mauled in certain stanzas. Yet meditating upon what is lovely and good has still happened, just after observing raw humanity.
T (my husband) and I indulged in a long conversation regarding these things one night before bed. Does the mess in 300 or Kill Bill or “Dream Song 34” bring me closer to Christ, promoting obedience? Yes. Will it do that for everyone? No. Should I care why? Yes.
I’ll leave this post with some poetry, and unfortunately an attempt to connect the words with my tongue was thwarted by technological difficulties. Let me know what you think anyway, and Bon week-end!
“Time Ignites Light” by Nina Hammer
My eyes are muted by grayed light
seeping in a high-storied hotel window
that tosses clouds out as confetti
jostling me to the restroom to clear
blood-shot eyes and realize my beauty in you,
butterflies tapping quietly on the liver
hydrated deeply by water
while I soar through lists and lines,
curl and smooth and update the status
to memorialize our exhausted, hungry, late sun-crisped love.
People are everywhere in color-filled spaces
that dance swiftly and smartly together
next to the photographer
pointing out shade and the reflections
most appropriate for randomly spinning white fabric
into black wool-blend kissing
all parts of us
conversing in between shuffles,
giggles and chuckles and complete madness
to satiate our fickle human instincts, familiar loud love.
The blue day carefully glides down into purple night
rushing coolness over our giddy sweat
as we sandwich in the car
decorated with loving, creative hands
and drive towards a gift of drastic slumber
on the wings of bubbles
for our love-drunken benefit,
smiles and tears and utter freshness
to contemplate our stalled passion, star-washed love.
Night’s air is thick and memorializing summer in glittered, gold doses.
Trees are escalating on the ripe, jeweled path behind us.
Gravel crunches under glued-on gifts and balloons, floating remnants.
Screaming birds float down to remind us time is disabled, wrangled, and regally launched.