John Berryman

John Berryman

1950 - 1953
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John Berryman at Kenney’s Bar

Kenney's Bar
125 South Clinton St.

John Berryman once had an intense argument with a fellow professor, and

when the workshop was over, Berryman retreated to [Irene] Kenney’s Bar and began drinking heavily, arguing with anyone unlucky enough to get in his way.

Mariani, Paul L. Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman. New York: W. Morrow, 1990. Print.


John Berryman at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop

Iowa Writers' Workshop (Dey House)
507 North Clinton Street, Iowa City, Iowa

While John Berryman was on the faculty of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, W. D. Snodgrass, the original confessional poet, was one of the members of his class.

I have been very fortunate twice in my career as a student of poetry,” William Dickey wrote in Ed Dinger’s Seems Like Old Times, “first to have been at Reed College as an undergraduate with Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Lew Welch, second to have been in John Berryman’s extraordinary and intense poetry workshop with W. D. Snodgrass, Donald Justice, Philip Levine, Paul Petrie, Robert Dana, Constance Urdang, Jane Cooper, Donald Finkel, Henri Coulette.

Dinger, Edward Henry. Seems like Old Times. Iowa City, IA: n.p., 1986. Print.


John Berryman Stays at the Jefferson Hotel

The Jefferson Hotel
129 E. Washington St. (Current Jefferson Building)

On the evening of September 17, Berryman boarded the Pullman sleeper for Iowa City, and the following morning checked into the Jefferson Hotel. […] John Montague, the Irish poet, had enrolled in Berryman’s workshop and remembered seeing him eating alone at the Jefferson Hotel, a copy of The ‘Caine Mutiny’ open before him, ‘nervous, taut, arrogant, uneasy.’

Mariani, Paul L. Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman. New York: W. Morrow, 1990. Print.


John Berryman’s Apartment on Jefferson Street

John Berryman's Apartment
409 E. Jefferson St.

Berryman spent his first few days back in Iowa City

registering students, then moved into an apartment at 409 East Jefferson Avenue. Later, after an intense argument with a fellow professor, and a night of drinking heavily, Berryman staggered back to his apartment, where, unable to find his key, he tried to force the door. When the landlord saw how drunk he was, he refused to let Berryman in. Upset, and desperately needing to go to the bathroom, Berryman began shouting obscenities. But when the landlord refused to let him in, Berryman squatted on the front porch and defecated. Berryman was locked up for ‘disorderly conduct,’ and was fired shortly thereafter.

Mariani, Paul L. Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman. New York: W. Morrow, 1990. Print.


John Berryman’s Apartment on Johnson Street

John Berryman Residence
606 S. Johnson Street, Iowa City, IA

At six in the evening on February 4, [Berryman’s] train arrived in Iowa City. He settled into his second-floor apartment at 606 South Johnson, then spent the rest of the evening drinking with some old friends from Princeton. By the time he got back to his apartment, he was very drunk. He managed to negotiate the stairs to his apartment, but as he came out of the bathroom into the dark hallway, he fell down the stairs and crashed into a half-glass door.

Mariani, Paul L. Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman. New York: W. Morrow, 1990. Print.


Philip Levine on John Berryman

Iowa City
123 S Linn St

Philip Levine talks about being taught by Robert Lowell and John Berryman at the University of Iowa, where his classmates included Donald Justice, W.D. Snodgrass and Henri Coulette.

Naomi Jaffa, Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, November 2009

1969 National Book Awards. John Berryman, Poetry Winner.

John Allyn Berryman (born John Allyn Smith, Jr.) was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and is often considered one of the founders of the ‘confessional’ school of poetry. His best-known work is a series of poems entitled ‘The Dream Songs.’ The series started with ’77 Dream Songs’ (1964) and was extended with 308 more, collected and numbered in ‘His Toy, His Dream, His Rest: 308 Dream Songs’ (1969). In 1965, Berryman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for ’77 Dream Songs’. After teaching stints at Harvard, Princeton, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Berryman took a position at the University of Minnesota. During this time he gained national attention for ‘Homage to Mistress Bradstreet’ (1956), a brilliant book-length dialogue with the 17th century poet Anne Bradstreet. The poet endured lifelong struggle with alcoholism and depression until his death in 1972, when he threw himself from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis.