When The New Quarterly publishes someone, the editors ask for a little squib on what he or she is currently reading, this to appear on the magazine’s web site. I just did my little piece to go with my story “A Flame, a Burst of Light.” It goes like this:
I am rereading John Berryman’s Love & Fame. My copy was inscribed and given to me by a friend who was dying of cancer. She and I shared a love for these American late moderns, that moody, mad generation of poets who drank too much and mostly committed suicide. The night before she died I sat beside her bed and read, at her request (she never requested appropriate things), Randall Jarrell’s great poem “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.” Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life…
Berryman’s Love & Fame is a ferociously intelligent masterpiece in the same line as John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. It begins with Berryman’s intellectual struggles and sexual athleticism as a young man in college and follows through to his years of poetic accomplishment—money, adulation, marriages, alcoholism and institutionalization. Reflexions on suicide, & on my father, possess me./ I drink too much. My wife threatens separation… Along the way he begins to study the Bible fiercely and carefully, then teach it. The last section of the book is a longish poem or series of poems, gorgeous and mysterious prayers, called “Eleven Addresses to the Lord.” It was these poems, especially, my friend meant me to read and reread, which I do from time to time, as now.
Rest or transfiguration! come & come
whenever Thou wilt. My daughter & my son
fend will without me, when my work is done
in Your opinion.