Summer 1988 • Vol. X No. 3 Nonfiction |

‘My Heavy Daughter’: John Berryman and the Making of “The Dream Songs”

I am almost utterly dissatisfied w[ith] my life," John Berryman wrote on February 10, 1962. "Kate [his wife of five months] I think is happy, & I am, in her & with her; but everything else is CHAOS."1 So, for the past six months he had been trying just to type and send off some of the Dream Songs to The New Yorker without being able to. What was he afraid of? Rejection? He knew he suffered from a "monumental incompetent procrastination abt taxes, bills, debts, insurance," writing recommendations for others, visiting his son or his mother, even in editing The Noble Savage, as he had promised Saul Bellow to help him do. He took no exercise, ate irregularly, boozed and smoked too much, so that by now his smoker's cough had reached "catastrophic" proportions. He was "out of touch w. nearly all those whom I love—Paul, Mother, Eileen, the Mackies, Saul, Cal [Lowell], the Camerons," even his own brother. How long too had it been since he'd done any real research? All he did any m

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