The Selected Letters of John Berryman: Warts-and-all selection of poet’s letters may not be for everyone

Landmark work highlights poet’s misogyny but fans and scholars will find riches among letters

Poet John Berryman with his then four year old daughter. Photograph: Terrence Spencer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Poet John Berryman with his then four year old daughter. Photograph: Terrence Spencer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

“Certainly the bearded one is not for everyone – as Marianne Moore said of poetry, I too, dislike it – but there is something in him that provides a model, or at least an anti-model, something to fight for or even against,” Kevin Young, poet and poetry editor of the New Yorker, remarks adroitly on the poems of John Berryman. And while this capacious, warts-and-all selection of Berryman’s letters is a landmark, a thorough undertaking from Philip Coleman and Calista McCrae, it may not be for everyone either.

The facts of Berryman’s life were tragic,  from his father’s suicide when he was 11 until he jumped off the Minneapolis’s Washington Avenue Bridge to his death in 1972. Like Hamlet, Berryman was haunted by his father’s spectre throughout his suffering alcoholic life.

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