John Berryman

John Berryman's life parallels Robert Lowell's in some respects. Born in Oklahoma, he was educated in the Northeast -- at prep school and at Columbia University, and later was a fellow at Princeton University. Specializing in traditional forms and meters, he was inspired by early American history and wrote self- critical, confessional poems in his Dream Songs (1969), which feature a grotesque autobiographical character named Henry and reflections on his own teaching routine, chronic alcoholism, and ambition.

Like his contemporary, Theodore Roethke, Berryman developed a supple, playful, but profound style enlivened by phrases from folklore, children's rhymes, clichés, and slang. Berryman writes, of Henry, "He stared at ruin. Ruin stared straight back." Elsewhere, he wittily writes, "Oho alas alas / When will indifference come, I moan and rave."