Wednesday, May 18, 2016
John Allyn Berryman (1914 –1972) was an American poet and scholar, born in McAlester, Oklahoma. He was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and was considered a key figure in the Confessional school of poetry.
In 1926, in Florida, when the poet was eleven years old, his father shot and killed himself, Berryman was haunted by his father's death for the rest of his life and would later write about his struggle to come to terms with it in his book The Dream Songs.
Berryman was married three times and lived turbulently. During one of the many times he was hospitalized in order to detox from alcohol abuse, in 1970, he experienced what he termed "a sort of religious conversion", "a sudden and radical shift from a belief in a transcendent God ... to a belief in a God who cared for the individual fates of human beings and who even interceded for them." Nevertheless, Berryman continued to abuse alcohol and to struggle with depression, as he had throughout much of his adult life, and on the morning of January 7, 1972, he killed himself by jumping from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, onto the west bank of the Mississippi River.