Sunday Night Journal, April 15, 2018
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52 Poems, Week 16: World-Telegram (John Berryman)

The time may not be very far away when this poem will need a footnote explaining that the speaker is reading a "newspaper," and how they worked. The New York World-Telegram was a daily that ran from 1867 until 1966, and is probably the paper referred to here. The poem was written in 1939. It is undoubtedly still under copyright, though Berryman died in 1972.



Man with a tail heads eastward for the Fair.
Can open a pack of cigarettes with it.
Was weaving baskets happily, it seems,
When found, the almost Missing Link, and brought
From Ceylon in the interests of science.
The correspondent doesn't know how old.

Two columns left, a mother saw her child
Crushed with its father by a ten-ton truck
Against a loading platform, while her son,
Small, frightened, in a Sea Scout uniform,
Watched from the Langley. All needed treatment.

Berlin and Rome are having difficulty
With a new military pact. Some think
Russia is not too friendly towards London.
The British note is called inadequate.

An Indian girl in Lima, not yet six,
Has been delivered by Caesarian.
A boy. They let the correspondent in:
Shy, uncommunicative, still quite pale,
A holy picture by her, a blue ribbon.

Right of the centre, and three columns wide,
A rather blurred but rather ominous
Machine-gun being set up by militia
This morning in Harlan County, Kentucky.
Apparently some miners died last night.
'Personal brawls' is the employers' phrase.

All this on the front page. Inside, penguins.
The approaching television of baseball.
The King approaching Quebec. Cotton down.
Skirts up. Four persons shot. Advertisements.
Twenty-six policemen are decorated.
Mother's Day repercussions. A film star
Hopes marriage will preserve him from his fans.

News of one day, one afternoon, one time.
If it were possible to take these things
Quite seriously, I believe they might
Curry disorders in the strongest brain,
Immobilize the most resilient will,
Stop trains, break up the city's food supply,
And perfectly demoralize the nation.


Just think how much we've advanced since then.

Back when I was somewhat in touch with the world of (then-)contemporary poetry, Berryman's reputation rested mainly on his Dream Songs, and especially on the selection therefrom called 77 Dream Songs. I don't know whether that's still true or not. This poem is from a collection of mostly pre-Dream Songs work, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet and other poems. There are a number of good poems in it. 

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog. 


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Why I live in a bubble.



I increasingly aspire to that but find it very difficult.

I would be in more of a bubble if I didn't read this blog! :)

I need to read through this poem a few more times. It sounds sort of clunky to me, and poetry should flow better. Might be the outside stimuli I'm dealing with.

Well, Maclin, going all over the internet reading about all the disturbing things in the world is not salutory for bubbles. ;-)


That's true, Stu, this blog is a conduit for a great deal of the news that reaches me.


Sure, I know that, Janet. Stopping myself from doing that is the difficulty.

I think this poem flows very nicely for the most part. By the way I'm not sure what a Langley is. I thought it must be a car, but I couldn't find anything indicating that there had ever been such a brand. But maybe I just didn't look hard enough. Every search including "Langley" and "automobile" turned up a lot of dealers and repair shops named Langley, or in a town named Langley. If I added "classic" or "antique" I got many sad stories about a guy who lives in Langley and lost his collection of classic cars in a fire.

I figured you did. ;-)

The Langley is a boat.
He was a sea scout.

I have just today realize that I conflate John Berryman with John Derbyshire.


That's a pretty off-the-wall conflation.

Thanks. It hadn't occurred to me that the Langley was a boat, or rather ship, despite the Sea Scout clue. However, it was probably not the one you linked to, which was built in 1979. Maybe you meant the USS Langley. Looks like a good candidate for Sea Scout use. Although it spent most of that period of time in the Pacific, it had "a brief deployment with the Atlantic Fleet from 1 February-10 July 1939." The poem is specifically dated May 11 1939.

It's purely an alphabetic confusion. Derby and Berry have mostly the same letters. It's my own little form of dyslexia. It's like May and March being the same month. One time I realized that I was doing that with Lou Rawls and Lou Reed.

Ha. No, I just meant Langleys were ships, not that it was that one.


Ok, I think this poem definitely could use a trigger warning. ;-)

I remember picking up a book of his poetry when I was in college and finding it deeply depressing. Just read his Wikipedia entry, and at first I thought his description of his father's suicide when Berryman was 11 was the best case I'd read for outlawing guns. But then I read that Berryman himself did the deed by jumping from a bridge, so... Reading this poem, written when he was in his 20s, I guess the amazing thing is that he made it to the age of 57.

He was a mess, for sure.

I wonder what those "Mother's Day repurcussions" were.

I was curious about the mother's day repercussions too, but all Google turns up for 11 May are:
- adverts advising people what to buy for mother's day
- notices of resolutions passed by committees about how to allocate whatever funds they raised with their mother's day activities
- notices of the rival "parents' day" rally (apparently there was a movement in New York in the 1930s to have "mother's day" redesignated "parents' day"; in the event 6000 people turned up to their rally!)

I'm rather surprised at that last item. Sounds like something that might have happened any time from the '70s on, but I'm surprised that it happened in the '30s.

That might be what the repercussions were, though.


During the 1920’s and into the great depression of the 1930’s, a movement arose to eliminate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favor of a single holiday to be called Parents’ Day. Every year on Mother’s Day, pro-Parents’ Day groups rallied in New York City’s Central Park–a public reminder, said Parents’ Day activist and radio performer Robert Spere, “that both parents should be loved and respected together.” However, the Great Depression finally derailed these efforts to combine the holidays. Struggling retailers doubled their efforts to make Father’s Day a “Second Christmas” for men, by bombarding the newspapers with advertisements promoting items such as golf clubs, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco. Not to mention the greeting cards industry. An industry still gets the most bang for their buck.

This from a page called Innovation & Tech about a current movement to change the days.


Puzzling to me that people would get so exercised about it. But it sure sounds like the poem could have been referring to some of that, except maybe that the date is somewhat later. .

interesting poem

I never did say explicitly: part of what I liked about it when I first discovered it some years ago was that it so much predates our current worries and stresses about the presence of media in our lives, the flood of disconnected information.

The poem is good. we should be paralyzed all the time, and only God knows why we are not.

Sometimes I am, at least with respect to the news of the world.

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