persona

Jerald Ramsey: On "For A Coming Extinction"

"For a Coming Extinction," the latest in Merwin's pod of whale poems, all owing something to Jonah and job, and having to do with the terrible human implications of animal extinctions. But the tone of the poem is not so simple: as in other poems of its kind in the book, Merwin's spokesman employs a complex kind of sarcasm rather than the consistently self-incriminating irony of a conventional persona. The speaker's monumentally arrogant statement on behalf of the heedless despoilers of life shifts intermittently to direct evocation of the pity, outrage, and guilt that the prospect of the whale's extinction demands, and in this mood he defines the terrible burden under which the poetic imagination must labor in The Lice:

I write as though you could understand And I could say it One must always pretend something Among the dying

By Jerold Ramsey. From M.S. Merwin: Essay on the Poetry. Ed. Cary Nelson and Ed Folsome. Copyright © 1987 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

Adrienne Rich: On "Negro Minstrelsy" in The Dream Songs

A new language is evolving in the heads of some Americans who use English. Some streak of genius in Berryman told him to try on what he’s referred to as "that god-damned baby talk," that blackface dialect, for his persona. No political stance taught him, no rational sympathy with negritude. For blackface is the supreme dialect and posture of this country, going straight to the roots of our madness. A man who needs to discourse on the most extreme, most tragic subjects, has recourse to nigger talk. "Arrive a time when all coons lose dere grip" … early in the 77; most flamboyant, most broad blackface. Later, more complexly, the muted, the whispering "Come away, Mr. Bones." Come away! Shakespeare’s English and some minstrelsy refrain meet, salute and inform each other.

 

From Adrienne Rich, "Living with Henry," (originally in the Harvard Advocate in Spring 1969), rep. in Harry Thomas Ed. Berryman’s Understanding: Reflections on the Poetry of John Berryman (Boston: Northeastern U P, 1988), 129-130