Monday, April 04, 2005

Reading Berryman

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.

-- From John Berryman's Paris Review interview--one of several dozen writers-at-work interviews downloadable at the magazine's DNA of Literature site.

Will I ever write properly, with passion & exactness,
of the damned strange demeanours of my flagrant heart?
& be by anyone anywhere undertaken?
One more unanswerable question.

-- From Berryman's poem "Monkhood", in Love & Fame.

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