Babbling, Braining, and Brooding Mr. Bones: An Exploration of the Metapoetic in 77 Dream Songs

UNCA Author/Contributor (non-UNCA co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Max Pollifrone, Student (Creator)
University of North Carolina Asheville (UNCA )
Web Site:
Gary Ettari

Abstract: John Berryman’s Pulitzer Prize winning book of poems, 77 Dream Songs, is about a character named Henry, who is “at odds wif de world and its god” (5.1. Line 3). Henry is an estranged character, a lonely American man, who sometimes speaks in an offensive vernacular derived from the minstrel show tradition, and who is incessantly preoccupied with death. His reflections on the world are sometimes misanthropic, oftentimes inebriated, and yet a strange pathos is evoked by his inability to attain an emotional stasis. More importantly, like John Berryman, Henry is a literary figure, who persistently frames his experiences through acts of creative self-expression such as song, the written word, or even prayer. It is in this sense that 77 Dream Songs functions as a work of meta poetry, which comments heavily on the act of artistic creation. Henry is compelled to express himself through poetic language, which is presented as both a source of comfort and torment for his character. Furthermore, throughout The Dream Songs he is portrayed as being physically mutilated. In the very first Dream Song for instance, we learn that he is “pried / open for all the world to see” (1.2. 11-12). Several more circumstances occur in which Henry is unraveled, both physically and mentally. What his character expresses then, is the compulsive relationship that the poet feels towards his art, while also suggesting the necessary disfigurement and fragmentation of personal experience in relation to the poetics of the 77 Dream Songs.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2015
John Berryman, meta poetry, 77 Dream Songs

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