e's Reviews > Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking

Alcohol and Poetry by Lewis Hyde
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did not like it

Probably one of the most offensive things I've ever read? It's mercifully short, at least, which just goes to show how little Hyde actually cared about his subject.

Hyde basically spends half the monograph exalting the wonders of AA, denying that it has anything to do with Christianity, then using quotes from the Bible to illustrate his points. In the other half he demonizes Berryman for being an alcoholic & mansplains why he failed as a poet by letting alcohol consume him.

The whole tone of this "essay" is just egregiously condescending & unsympathetic & I'm baffled why Hyde would have bothered to write about a poet he obviously has no respect for if not merely to just puff himself up as the one who REALLY GETS IT, MAN. Sentences like the following go toward make up the majority of this piece of shit: "The stylistic innovations in the Dream Songs are epistemologically wrong—an alcoholic is not a slave—and this is why they are so unsatisfying. The style obscures & mystifies, it does not reveal. [...] It had the con-man's style and the con-game's plot. It depends for survival on an arrogance of will, ascendant and dissociated from the whole. These poems are not a contribution to culture. They are artifacts of a dying civilization, like one of those loaves of bread turned to lava at Pompeii." On the same page, Hyde compares Berryman's tone to that of a whining child. Earlier, he claims that The Dream Songs are rife with "misogny" [sic], then gives zero evidence to back this up.

I'm not denying that Berryman was an alcoholic or that that doesn't enter into the textual corpus but to claim that The Dream Songs are merely a conduit for the voice of alcohol & that this is some sort of artistic failure is fucking ludicrous. The Dream Songs succeed because the voice is so asyntactic—they open up possibilities for expression & thought that, even if they arose from alcohol, cause us to fall deeper into their strange, terrifying, beautiful, & Dantescan-comic vision of the world, as we fall deeper into the convolutions of our own dreams. Matthew Arnold writes in "The Study of Poetry" that "for poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact. The strongest part of our religion to-day is its unconscious poetry.” As religiosity comes out to play in The Dream Songs it is flatly refused as so much smoke & mirrors & inadequate in its spiritually palliating effect in comparison to the poem. I sense that Hyde took great offense at this more than anything & felt compelled to write this essay, which essentially amounts to him spitting on Berryman's grave. Like, Christ, dude. Get a grip.
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Finished Reading
September 20, 2014 – Shelved

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