John Berryman



Peter Stitt. "The Art of Poetry: An Interview with John Berryman."

[Conducted by Peter Stitt on Oct. 27 and 29, 1970. In Berryman's Understanding: Reflections on the Poetry of John Berryman. Ed. Harry Thomas. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1988. Copyright ® Paris Review.]

I sit looking out a window at 3:30 this February afternooon. I see a pasture, green out of season and sunlit; in an hour more or less, it will be black. John Berryman walks brightly out of my memory. We met at Princeton through Caroline Gordon, in 1944, the wane of the war. The moment was troubled; my wife, Jean Stafford, and I were introduced to the Berryman's for youth and diversion. I remember expected, probably false, images, the hospital-white tablecloth, the clear martinis, the green antiquing of an Ivy League college faculty club. What college? Not Princeton, but the less spruce Cambridge, England, John carried with him in his speech rhythms and dress. He had a casual intensity, the almost intimate mumble of a don. For life, he was to be a student, scholar, and teacher. I think he was almost the student-friend I've had, the one who was the student in essence. An indignant spirit was born in him; his life was a cruel fight to set it free. Is the word for him courage or generosity or loyalty? He had these. And he was always a performer, a prima donna; at first to those he scorned, later to everyone, except perhaps students, his family, and Saul Bellow1.

From the first, John was humorous, learned, thrustingly vehement in liking. . .more adolescent than boyish. He and I preferred critics who were writers to critics who were not writers. We hated literary discussions animated by jealousy and pushed by caution. John's own criticism, mostly spoken, had a poetry. Hyper-enthusiasms made him a hot friend, and could also make him wearing to friends - one of his dearest, Delmore Schwartz, used to say no one had John's loyalty, but you liked him to live in another city. John had fire then, but not the fire of Byron or Yevtushenko2. He clung so keenly to Hopkins3, Yeats4, and Auden5 that their shadows paled him.



Later, the Berryman's (the first Berrymans, the first Lowells) stayed with us in Damariscotta Mills, Maine. Too many guests had accepted. We were inept and uncouth at getting the most out of the country; we didn't own or drive a car. This gloomed and needled the guests. John was ease and light. We gossiped on the rocks of the millpond, baked things in shells on the sand, and drank, as was the appetite of our age, much less than now. John could quote with vibrance to all lengths, even prose, even late Shakespeare, to show me what could be done with disrupted and mended syntax. This was the start of his real style. At first he wrote with great brio bristles of clauses, all breaks and with little style to break off from. Someone said this style was like Emily Dickinson's mad-dash punctuation without the words. I copied, and arrived at a manner that made even the verses I wrote for my cousins' bouts rimes (with 'floor', 'door', 'whore', and 'more' for the fixed rhymes) leaden and unintelligible. Nets so grandly knotted could only catch logs - our first harsh, inarticulate cry of truth.

My pilgrimage to Princeton with Randall Jarrell to have dinner with the Berryman's was not happy. Compared with other poets, John was a prodigy; compared with Randall, a slow starter. Perpetrators of such misencounters usually confess their bewilderment that two talents with so much in common failed to jell. So much in common - both were slightly heretical disciples of Bernard Haggin6, the music and record critic. But John jarred the evening by playing his own favorite recordings on an immense machine constructed and formerly used by Haggin [...]

Both poet-critics had just written definitive essay-reviews of my first book, Lord Weary's Castle. To a myopic eye, they seemed to harmonize. So much the worse. Truth is in minute particulars; here, in the minutiae, nothing meshed. Earlier in the night, Berryman made the tactical mistake of complimenting Jarrell on his essay. This was accepted with a hurt, glib croak, 'Oh, thanks.' The flattery was not returned, not a muscle smiled. I realized that if the essays were to be written again. . . On the horrible New Jersey midnight local to Pennsylvania Station, Randall analyzed John's high, intense voice with surprise and coldness. 'Why hasn't anyone told him?' Randall had the same high, keyed-up voice he criticized. Soon he developed chills and fevers, evermore violent, and I took my suit coat and covered him. He might have been a child. John, the host, the insulted one, recovered sooner. His admiration for Randall remained unsoured, but the dinner was never repeated.

Our trip a year later to Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeths Hospital near Washington was softer, so soft I remember nothing except a surely misplace image of John sitting on the floor hugging his knees, and asking with shining cheeks for Pound to sing an aria from his opera Villon. He saw nothing nutty about Pound, or maybe it was the opposite. Anyway, his instincts were true - serene, ungrudging, buoyant. Few people, even modern poets, felt carefree and happy with Pound then. . . When we came back to my room, I made the mistake of thinking that John was less interested in his new poems than in mine. . .Another opera. Much later, in the ragged days of John's first divorce, we went to the Met Opera Club, and had to borrow Robert Giroux's dinner jacket and tails. I lost the toss and wore the tails. I see John dancing in the street shouting, 'I don't know you, Elizabeth wouldn't know you, only your mother would.'

Pound, Jarrell, and Berryman had the same marvellous and maddening characteristic: they were self-centered and unselfish. This gave that breathless, commanding rush to their amusements and controversies - to Jarrell's cool and glowing critical appreciations, to Berryman's quotations and gossip. His taste for what he despised was infallible; but he could outrageously hero-worship living and dead, most of all writers his own age. Few have died without his defiant, heroic dirge. I think he sees them rise from their graves like soldiers to answer him.

Jarrell's death was the sadder. If it hadn't happened, it wouldn't have happened. He would be with me now, in full power, as far as one may at fifty. This might-have-been (it's a frequent thought) stings my eyes. John, with pain and joy like his friend Dylan Thomas , almost won what he gambled for. He was more eccentric than Thomas, less the natural poet of natural force, yet had less need to be first actor. He grew older, drier, more toughly twisted into the varieties of experience.

I must say something of death and the extremist poets, as we are named in often pre-funerary tributes. Except for Weldon Kees9 and Sylvia Plath10, they lived as long as Shakespeare, outlived Wyatt, Baudelaire, and Hopkins, and long outlived the forever Romantics, those who really died young. John himself lived to the age of Beethoven, whom he celebrates in the most ambitious and perhaps finest of his late poems, a monument to his long love, unhampered expression, and subtle criticism. John died with fewer infirmities than Beethoven. The consolation somehow doesn't wash. I feel the jagged gash with which my contemporaries died, with which we were to die. Were they killed, as standard radicals say, by our corrupted society? Was their success an aspect of their destruction? Were we uncomfortable epigone of Frost, Pound, Eliot, Marianne Moore11, etc.? This bitter possibility came to us at the moment of our arrival. Death comes sooner or later, these made it sooner.

I somehow smile, though a bit crookedly, when I think of John's whole life, and even of the icy leap from the bridge to the hard ground. He was springy to the end, and on his feet. The cost of his career is shown by an anecdote he tells in one of the earlier Dream Songs - as a boy the sliding seat in his shell slipped as he was rowing a race, and he had to push back and forth, bleeding his bottom on the runners, till the race was finished. The bravery is ignominious and screams. John kept rowing; maybe at the dock no one noticed the blood on his shorts - his injury wasn't maiming. Going to one of his later Minnesota classes, he stumbled down the corridor, unhelped, though steadying himself step by step on the wall, then taught his allotted hour, and walked to the ambulance he had ordered, certain he would die of a stroke while teaching. He was sick a few weeks, then returned to his old courses - as good as before.


Peter Stitt. "The Art of Poetry: An Interview with John Berryman."

[Conducted by Peter Stitt on Oct. 27 and 29, 1970. In Berryman's Understanding: Reflections on the Poetry of John Berryman. Ed. Harry Thomas. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1988. Copyright © Paris Review.]

INTERVIEWER: In The Dream Songs there is a passage about assistant professors becoming associate professors by working on your poems. How do you feel about being cannon fodder for aspiring young critics and graduate students?

As for the graduate students, some of the work they do is damned interesting. A woman somewhere in the South did an eighty-page thesis investigating the three little epigraphs to the 77 Dream Songs and their bearing on the first three books of the poem. I must say that her study was exhaustive-very little left to be found out on that subject! But it's good, careful work. I take a pleased interest in these things, though there is ineptness and naiveté, and they get all kinds of things wrong and impute to me amazing motives. Another woman thought I was influenced by Hebrew elegiac meter. Now, my Hebrew is primitive, and I don't even know what Hebrew elegiac meter is-and, moreover, neither does she. It's a harmless industry. It gets people degrees. I don't feel against it and I don't feel for it. I sympathize with the students.

The professional critics, those who know what the literary, historical, philosophical, and theological score is, have not really gone to work yet, and may not do so for a long time yet. I did have a letter once from a guy who said: "Dear Mr. Berryman, Frankly I hope to be promoted from assistant professor to associate professor by writing a book about you. Are you willing to join me in this unworthy endeavor?" So I joined him. I answered all his questions. I practically flew out to pour out his drinks while he typed.

INTERVIEWER: I would like to change the subject now and talk about your work. Let's start with The Dream Songs. As you know, there is some controversy over the structure of the work- why it was first published in two volumes, why it consists of seven sections of varying lengths, and so on. What structural notion did you have in mind in writing it?

[....] I think the model in The Dream Songs was the other greatest American poem-I am very ambitious-"Song of Myself "-a very long poem, about sixty pages. It also has a hero, a personality, himself. Henry is accused of being me and I am accused of being Henry and I deny it and nobody believes me. Various other things entered into it, but that is where I started.

The narrative such as it is developed as I went along, partly out of my gropings into and around Henry and his environment and associates, partly out of my readings in theology and that sort of thing, taking place during thirteen years-awful long time-and third, out of certain partly preconceived and partly developing as I went along, sometimes rigid and sometimes plastic, structural notions. That is why the work is divided into seven books, each book of which is rather well unified, as a matter of fact. Finally, I left the poem open to the circumstances of my personal life. [...]

The poem does not go as far as "Song of Myself." What I mean by that is this: Whitman denies that "Song of Myself" is a long poem. He has a passage saying that he had long thought that there was no such thing as a long poem and that when he read Poe he found that Poe summed up the problem for him. But here it is, sixty pages. What's the notion? He doesn't regard it as a literary work at all, in my opinion-he doesn't quite say so. It proposes a new religion-it is what is called in Old Testament criticism a wisdom work, a work on the meaning of life and how to conduct it. Now, I don't go that far-The Dream Songs is a literary composition, it's a long poem-but I buy a little of it. I think Whitman is right with regard to "Song of Myself." I'm prepared to submit to his opinion. He was crazy, and I don't contradict madmen. When William Blake says something, I say thank you, even though he has uttered the most hopeless fallacy that you can imagine. I'm willing to be their loving audience. I'm just hoping to hear something marvelous from time to time, marvelous and true. Of course The Dream Songs does not propose a new system; that is not the point. In that way it is unlike "Song of Myself." It remains a literary work.

INTERVIEWER: Where do you go from here?

[....] I have a tiny little secret hope that, after a decent period of silence and prose, I will find myself in some almost impossible life situation and will respond to this with outcries of rage, rage and love, such as the world has never heard before. Like Yeats's great outburst at the end of his life. This comes out of a feeling that endowment is a very small part of achievement. I would rate it about fifteen or twenty percent, Then you have historical luck, personal luck, health, things like that, then you have hard work, sweat. And you have ambition. The incredible difference between the achievement of A and the achievement of B is that B wanted it, so he made all kinds of sacrifices. A could have had it, but he didn't give a damn.[...]

But what I was going on to say is that I do strongly feel that among the greatest pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal. Certain great artists can make out without it, Titian and others, but mostly you need ordeal. My idea is this: the artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he's in business. Beethoven's deafness, Goya's deafness, Milton's blindness, that kind of thing. And I think that what happens in my poetic work in the future will probably largely depend not on my sitting calmly on my ass as I think, "Hmm, hmm, a long poem again? Hmm," but on being knocked in the face, and thrown flat, and given cancer, and all kinds of other things short of senile dementia. At that point, I'm out, but short of that, I don't know. I hope to be nearly crucified.

INTERVIEWER: You're not knocking on wood.

I'm scared, but I'm willing. I'm sure this is a preposterous attitude, but I'm not ashamed of it.


John Plotz. "An Interview with John Berryman"

[Interview conducted by John Plotz of the Harvard Advocate on Oct. 27, 1968. In Berryman's Understanding: Reflections on the Poetry of John Berryman. Ed. Harry Thomas. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1988. Copyright © Harvard Advocate]

INTERVIEWER: Why do you call The Dream Songs one poem rather than a group of poems in the same form?

Ah-it's personality-it's Henry. He thought up all these things over all the years. The reason I call it one poem is the result of my strong disagreement with Eliot's line-the impersonality of poetry, an idea which he got partly from Keats (a letter) and partly from Goethe (again a letter). I'm very much against that; it seems to me on the contrary that poetry comes out of personality. For example, Keats-I'm thinking of "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," I'm thinking of that; and I'm thinking of Hopkins-any one of the sonnets. So I don't buy this business about the eighteenth century being impersonal, either. Now Johnson's best poem in my opinion is about a factor in his household-I forget the name of it-and it's a beautiful poem, and it's extremely personal.

INTERVIEWER: You admire Stephen Crane, we know, and many of his characters are named" Henry"; is this the origin of the name?

Oh, no-that's all just accident and junk. I'll tell you how the name Henry came into being. One time my second wife and I were walking down an avenue in Minneapolis and we decided on the worst names that you could think of for men and women. We decided on Mabel for women, and Henry for men. So from then on, in the most cozy and adorable way, she was Mabel and I was Henry; and that's how Henry came into being.

INTERVIEWER: What is the relationship between you and Henry?

I think I'll leave that one to the critics. Henry does resemble me, and I resemble Henry; but on the other hand I am not Henry. You know, I pay income tax; Henry pays no income tax. And bats come over and they stall in my hair-and fuck them, I'm not Henry; Henry doesn't have any bats.

INTERVIEWER: What about the influence of blues and minstrel shows on The Dream Songs?

Heavy. I have been interested in the language of the blues and Negro dialects all my life, always been. Especially Bessie. I picked all of it up from records, although while I was at Columbia the Apollo on 125th Street used to have blues singers. It was a completely coony house, and I used to go there sometimes; but mostly from records. For example, I never heard Bessie herself-she died.

INTERVIEWER: Why did you choose to employ the Negro dialect in The Dream Songs?

Well, that's a tough question. I'll tell you, I wrote a story once called "The Imaginary Jew." I was in Union Square in New York, waiting to see my girl, and I was taken for a Jew (I had a beard at the time ). There was a tough Irishman who wanted to beat me up, and I got into the conversation, and I couldn't convince them that I wasn't a Jew. Well, the Negro business-the blackface-is related to that, That is, I feel extremely lucky to be white, let me put it that way, so that I don't have that problem, Friends of mine-Ralph Ellison, for example, in my opinion one of the best writers in the country-he has the problem. He's black, and he and Fanny, wherever they go, they are black

INTERVIEWER: A formal question about the unit in The Dream Songs of three stanzas-did you have any idea of this particular length from earlier poems, specifically The Nervous Songs, which have a similar structure?

Yes, well, the stanza is complicated. It goes 5-5-3-5-5-3, 5-5-3-5-5-3, 5-5-3-5-5 3-that's the business-and it's variously rhymed, and often it has no rhyme at all, but it sounds as if it rhymed, That I got from Yeats-three six-line stanzas. His songs don't really resemble mine, but I did get that from him. It's rather like an extended, three-part sonnet.

INTERVIEWER: You said yesterday that to be a poet you had to sacrifice everything, Can you amplify on that, and tell why and how you first decided to make the sacrifice and be a poet?

Well, being a poet is a funny kind of jazz. It doesn't get you anything. It doesn't get you any money, or not much, and it doesn't get you any prestige, or not much. It's just something you do.


That's a tough question. I'll tell you a real answer, I'm taking your question seriously, This comes from Hamann, quoted by Kierkegaard. There are two voices, and the first voice says, "Write!" and the second voice says, "For whom?" I think that's marvelous; he doesn't question the imperative, you see that. And the first voice says, "for the dead whom thou didst love"; again the second voice doesn't question it; instead it says, "Will they read me?" And the first voice says, "Aye, for they return as posterity." Isn't that good?



1Saul Bellow (June 10, 1915 - April 5, 2005). He was born Solomon (nicknamed 'Sollie') Bellows in Lachine, Quebec (now part of Montreal), shortly after his parents had emigrated from St. Petersburg, Russia. The family moved to the slums of Chicago, Illinois, the city where he received his schooling and that was to form the backdrop to many of his novels, when he was nine; Bellow's father worked there as an onion importer. His lifelong love for the Bible began at four when he learned Hebrew. A period of illness in his youth both taught him self-reliance (he was a very fit man despite his bookishness) and provided an opportunity to satisfy Bellow's hunger for reading: reportedly he decided to be a writer when he first read Uncle Tom's Cabin. John Podhoretz, a student at the University of Chicago, said that Bellow and Allan Bloom, a close friend of Bellow, 'inhaled books and ideas the way the rest of us breathe air'. Bellow taught at the University of Minnesota, New York University, Princeton, the University of Chicago, Bard College and Boston University where he cotaught a class with James Wood ('modestly absenting himself' when it was time to discuss Seize the Day). In order to take up his appointment at Boston, Bellow relocated in 1993 from Chicago to Brookline, Massachusetts, where he died on April 5, 2005, at age 89. He is buried at the Jewish cemetery Shir he harim of Brattleboro, Vermont. Bellow began his undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago but left after two years to complete his degree not in English, but in anthropology at Northwestern University. It has been suggested that the study of anthropology had an interesting influence on his literary style. Before Bellow started his career as a writer he wrote book reviews for ten dollars apiece. His early works earned him the reputation as one of the foremost novelists of the 20th century, and by his death he was regarded by many as the greatest living novelist in English. He was the first novelist to win the National Book Award three times.

2Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko (born July 18, 1933) is a Russian poet, whose work contains scathing attacks on the Russian bureaucracy as a legacy of Stalin. Born in Irkutsk to a family of Ukrainian exiles, he moved to Moscow as a boy and attended the Gorky Institute of Literature. His first important poem was "Zima Junction," published in 1956. Yevtushenko was one of politically active authors during the Khrushchev Thaw. In 1961 he produced the poem "Babi Yar," in which he attacked Soviet indifference to the Nazi massacre of the Jews of Kiev in September 1941. The poem was widely circulated in samizdat but a typical Soviet policy regarding the Holocaust was to present it as atrocities against Soviet citizens, not acknowledging the genocide of the Jews and this politically incorrect poem was published in the state-controlled Soviet press only in 1984. In the same year that he released Babi Yar, he also published "The Heirs of Stalin," claiming that the legacy of Stalinism still dominated the country. Published originally in Pravda, the poem was only republished a quarter of a century later, under the more liberal leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1963, Yevtushenko, already an international literary sensation, was banned from traveling outside the Soviet Union; the ban was lifted in 1965. Yevtushenko (along with Jean Paul Sartre and others) was one of the signatories of the protest against the harsh sentence given by the Soviet authorities to Joseph Brodsky. Nevertheless, when he was made an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, there was a flurry of protest, led by Brodsky, who complained that Yevtushenko's attacks on the Soviet Union were launched only in directions approved by the Party. In the 1970s, Yevtushenko was closely associated with dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In the post-Soviet era, Yevtushenko has been active promoting the works of former dissident poets, environmental causes, and the memory of victims of the Soviet Gulags. Yevtushenko now teaches Russian and European poetry and film at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma and at Queens College of the City University of New York.

3Gerard Manley Hopkins (July 28, 1844 - June 8, 1889) was a British Victorian poet and Jesuit priest. Much of Hopkins' historical importance has to do with the changes he brought to the form of poetry, which ran contrary to conventional ideas of meter. Prior to Hopkins, most Middle English and Modern English poetry was based on a rhythmic structure inherited from the Norman side of English's literary heritage. This structure is based on repeating groups of two or three syllables, with the stressed syllable falling in the same place on each repetition. Hopkins called this structure "running rhythm", and though he wrote some of his early verse in running rhythm he became fascinated with the older rhythmic structure of the Anglo-Saxon tradition, of which Beowulf is the most famous example. Hopkins called his own rhythmic structure sprung rhythm. Sprung rhythm is structured around feet with a variable number of syllables, generally between one and four syllables per foot, with the stress always falling on the first syllable in a foot. In reality, it more closely resembles the "rolling stresses" of Robinson Jeffers, another poet who disavowed conventional meter. Hopkins saw sprung rhythm as a way to escape the constraints of running rhythm, which he said inevitably, pushed poetry written in it to become "same and tame." In this way, Hopkins can be seen as anticipating much of free verse. His work has no great affinity with either of the contemporary Pre-Raphaelite and neo-romanticism schools, although he does share their descriptive love of nature and he is often seen as a precursor to modernist poetry or as a bridge between the two poetic eras. One more influence on him was the Welsh language he learnt while studying theology at St. Beuno's College in Wales. The poetic forms of Welsh literature and particularly cynghanedd with its emphasis on repeating sounds accorded with his own style and became a prominent feature of his work. This reliance on similar sounding words with close or differing senses mean that his poems are best understood if read aloud. An important element in his work is Hopkins' own concept of "inscape" which was derived, in part, from the medieval theologian Duns Scotus. The exact detail of "inscape" is uncertain and probably known to Hopkins alone but it has to do with the individual essence and uniqueness of every physical thing. This is communicated from an object by its "instress" and ensures the transmission of the item's importance in the wider creation. His poems would then try to present this "inscape" so that a poem like "The Windhover" aims to depict not the bird in general but instead one instance and its relation to the breeze.

4William Butler Yeats (13 June 1865 - 28 January 1939) was an Irish poet, dramatist, mystic and public figure. Yeats was one of the driving forces behind the Irish Literary Revival and was co-founder of the Abbey Theatre. Yeats also served as an Irish Senator. When Yeats was young, his family moved first from Sandymount, County Dublin, to County Sligo, and then to London to enable his father John to further his career as an artist. At first, the Yeats children were educated at home. Their mother, who was homesick for Sligo, entertained them with stories and folktales from her native county. In 1877, William entered the Godolphin school, which he attended for four years. He did not distinguish himself academically. For financial reasons, the family returned to Dublin towards the end of 1880, living at first in the city centre and later in the suburb of Howth. In October, 1881, Yeats resumed his education at the Erasmus Smith High School in Dublin. His father's studio was located nearby and he spent a great deal of time there, meeting many of the city's artists and writers. He remained at the high school until December 1883. It was during this period that he started writing poetry and in 1885, Yeats' first poems, as well as an essay called "The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson", were published in the Dublin University Review. From 1884 to 1886, he attended the Metropolitan School of Art (now the National College of Art and Design) in Kildare Street. His early work tended towards romantic lushness best described by the title of his 1893 collection The Celtic Twilight, but in his 40s, inspired by his relationships with modernist poets such as Ezra Pound and his involvement in Irish nationalist politics, he moved towards a harder, more modern style. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923 for what the Nobel Committee described as "his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation".

5Wystan Hugh Auden (February 21, 1907 - September 29, 1973) was an English poet, often cited as one of the most influential of the 20th century. He spent the first part of his life in the United Kingdom, but emigrated to the United States in 1939, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1946. Auden wrote a considerable body of criticism and essays as well as co-authoring some drama with his friend Christopher Isherwood, but he is primarily known as a poet. Auden's work is characterised by exceptional variety, ranging from such rigorous traditional forms as the villanelle to original yet intricate forms, as well as the technical and verbal skills Auden displayed regardless of form. He was also partly responsible for re-introducing Anglo-Saxon accentual meter to English poetry. An area of controversy is the extent to which Auden reworked poems in successive publications, and dropped several of his best-known poems from collected editions because he no longer felt they were honest or accurate. His literary executor, Edward Mendelson, makes the case in his introduction to Auden's Selected Poems that this was in fact an affirmation of Auden's serious belief in the power and importance of poetry. The Selected Poems include some of the verse Auden rejected, and early versions of some which he later revised.

6The career of music critic Bernard H. Haggin (December 29, 1900 - May 28, 1987), better known as B.H. Haggin, spanned nearly the entire 20th century. A lifelong inhabitant of New York City, he graduated from Juilliard School in 1920, where he studied piano. His career as a journalist commenced shortly thereafter as a contributor to The New Republic, among other publications. From 1936 to 1957 he was the music critic of The Nation. Haggin was a staunch but not uncritical admirer of the conductor Arturo Toscanini, whom he befriended. He was the first major American critic to recognize the genius of the choreographer George Balanchine. Also, in the 1930s, he launched the career of the future record producer, John Hammond, hiring him as a reviewer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Haggin wrote twelve books on music and two on ballet. He was the author of the first general guide to recorded classical music Music on Records (1938), later expanded as The Listener's Musical Companion (1956), which Haggin regularly updated in new editions until 1978. Haggin's best-known titles are about Toscanini: Conversations with Toscanini (1959), a personal reminiscence, and The Toscanini Musicians Knew (1967), a series of interviews with musicians who played in orchestras or sang with the Italian conductor. The two volumes were republished in 1989 as Arturo Toscanini, Contemporary Recollections of the Maestro. As a critic, Haggin was trenchant, imperious, and meticulous, having little patience for mediocre music, musicians, or fellow critics. He engendered enmity by criticizing RCA for issuing badly-recorded or badly-mixed recordings of Toscanini and "enhancing" them with artificial stereo sound. His writing style, though passionate, was also concise and clear -- a far cry from the flowery and opaque music criticism prevalent in the 1930s and '40s, and he was not ashamed to make value judgments about composers and works which offended some readers, and endeared him to others. (For example, Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, he once wrote, is "an inflated monstrosity of straining, portentous banality.") Iconoclastic his entire life, Haggin didn't fit well into the mainstream music-criticism establishment; in his later years, he wrote mostly for lesser-known journals. Based solely on his critical canon, however, Haggin belongs in the pantheon of great music critics of the past 150 years, along with French composer Hector Berlioz, Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw, and British critic W.J. Turner.

7Roger Williams Straus, Jr. (January 3, 1917 - May 25, 2004) was co-founder of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a New York book publishing company. Straus, along with John Farrar, began the influential firm of Farrar and Straus in 1945. In 1955, the company hired editor Robert Giroux away from rival Harcourt, Brace, who brought along authors such as T. S. Eliot and Flannery O'Connor, among others. Ultimately, in 1994, twenty years after his partner Farrar had died, Straus determined he could no longer run the company, retired, and sold the business to a German publishing conglomerate, Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, the type of company he had long disdained and spoke out against. Straus was regarded as one of the last, old-fashioned publishers, faithful to his company and tight with his money, but emphasizing quality over commercial success. His dedication to the publishing business earned him several Nobel Prize-winning authors, including Isaac Bashevis Singer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Joseph Brodsky, Nadine Gordimer, Czeslaw Milosz and T. S. Eliot, and Pulitzer Prize authors such as Robert Lowell, John McPhee, Philip Roth, and Bernard Malamud. Straus grew up in a wealthy and influential family. His mother was Gladys Guggenheim, heir to one of the largest fortunes in America. His father, Roger W. Straus, was chairman of the American Smelting and Refining Co., which was owned by his wife's family. Straus' paternal grandfather, Oscar S. Straus, served as Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Theodore Roosevelt.

8Dylan Marlais Thomas (October 27, 1914 - November 9, 1953). Dylan Thomas is widely considered one of the greatest 20th century poets writing in English. He remains the leading figure in Anglo-Welsh literature. His vivid and often fantastic imagery was a rejection of the trends in 20th Century verse: while his contemporaries gradually altered their writing to serious topical verse (political and social concerns were often expressed), Thomas gave himself over to his passionately felt emotions, and his writing is often both intensely personal and fiercely lyrical. Thomas, in many ways, was more in alignment with the Romantics than he was with the poets of his era. Thomas' short stories are poetry exploded. Most notably is a semi-autobiographical selection published in 1940 entitled, 'Portrait of an Artist as a Young Dog', in which he explores his youth. Thomas's circle, sometimes known as the "Kardomah Boys" after the coffee shop where they often met, included the composer and old school friend, Daniel Jones, the poet Vernon Watkins, and the artists Alfred Janes and Mervyn Levy. Brought to the attention of the public by the discerning eye of the English Romantic poet Victor Benjamin Neuberg, the poetry editor of the Sunday Referee, Thomas was invited to London by Neuberg and introduced to the capital's influential literary critics. He is particularly remembered for the remarkable radio-play Under Milk Wood, for his poem "Do not go gentle into that good night," which is generally interpreted as a plea to his dying father to hold onto life, and for the short stories "A Child's Christmas in Wales," and "The Outing".

9Harry Weldon Kees (February 24, 1914 - presumed dead July 18, 1955). Kees was born in Beatrice, Nebraska and educated at Doane College, the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1935. His first book of poems The Last Man (1940) was a hit. He moved to New York City and began attending parties with literary critics like Edmund Wilson and Lionel Trilling, but he never felt comfortable in that society. Then he began to paint, and some of his works hung alongside Picasso in an exhibition at the Whitney. Wearied of New York, he moved to San Francisco, where he began making experimental films and he got involved with the Beat scene. On July 19, 1955, Kees's Plymouth Savoy was found on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge with the keys in the ignition. When his friends went to search his apartment, all they found were the cat he had named Lonesome and a pair of red socks in the sink. His sleeping bag and savings account book were missing. He left no note. No one is sure if Weldon Kees jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge that day or if he went to Mexico. Before he disappeared, Kees quoted Rilke to friend Michael Grieg, ominously saying that sometimes a person needs to change his life completely.

10Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 - February 11, 1963) was an American poet, novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Most famous as a poet, Plath is also known for The Bell Jar, her semi-autobiographical novel detailing her struggle with clinical depression. Plath earned a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Cambridge, where she continued writing poetry, occasionally publishing her work in the student newspaper Varsity. At Cambridge she met English poet Ted Hughes. They were married on June 16, 1956 with Plath's mother in attendance. Plath and Hughes spent from July 1957 to October 1959 living and working in the United States. Plath taught at Smith. They then moved to Boston where Plath sat in on seminars with Robert Lowell. This course was to have a profound influence on her work. Also attending the seminars was Anne Sexton. At this time Plath and Hughes also met, for the first time, W. S. Merwin, who admired their work and remained a lifelong friend. On discovering that Plath was pregnant, they moved back to the United Kingdom. She and Hughes lived in London for a while and then settled in Court Green, North Tawton, a small market town in Mid Devonshire. She published her first collection of poetry, The Colossus, in England in 1960. In February 1961 she suffered a miscarriage. A number of poems refer to this event. The marriage met with difficulties and they were separated less than two years after the birth of their first child. Their separation was mainly due to her mental illness, and the affair that Hughes had with a fellow poet's wife, Assia Wevill. Plath returned to London with their children, Frieda and Nicholas. She rented a flat in Fitzroy Street, Primrose Hill, in a house where W. B. Yeats once lived; Plath was extremely pleased with this and considered it a good omen. The winter of 1962/1963 was very harsh and perhaps the second worst of the century. On February 11, 1963, Plath gassed herself in her kitchen, ending her life at the age of thirty. The new nanny arrived but couldn't raise Plath's neighbour in the flat below (he was under the effect of the gas). The children were found in good health, if chilled from the cold air of the room (Plath had left the windows open to keep the rooms ventilated; also placing dishtowels in the door cracks to keep her children from inhaling the gas). Plath is buried in the churchyard at Heptonstall, West Yorkshire. Rumours of Sylvia's poverty in the last year of her life have been disputed by later books, particularly Anne Stevenson's Bitter Fame. The neutrality of this biography is disputed, and it remains difficult to obtain an objective account of the relationship between Plath and Hughes. Since her suicide, Sylvia Plath has risen to "iconic status" and is considered to be one of the best poets and most controversial of her generation.

11Marianne Moore (December 11, 1887 - February 5, 1972). Marianne Moore was born in Kirkwood, Missouri, outside of St. Louis, daughter of construction engineer and inventor, John Milton Moore, and his wife, Mary Warner. She grew up in the household of her grandfather, a Presbyterian pastor, her father having been committed to a mental hospital before her birth. In 1905, Moore entered Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, and graduated four years later. She taught courses at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, until 1915, when Moore began to professionally publish poetry.