The Catholic intellectual journal Commonweal miraculously reappeared at the Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago, along with the Times Literary Supplement. I hadn't seen either publication on the newsstands for years, and their reappearance sparked my flickering hopes that print culture was not in rapid decline. Alas, the TLS quickly disappeared, and when I inquired, the clerk, with the gravity of an undertaker or a doctor with bad news, said "we are no longer carry it." Not enough buyers, he said. However, Commonweal remained.
The other day, I at last picked up a copy, to read an article on the new translation of the Catholic liturgy, which will be imposed upon us in November. The old English liturgy has been the once recited at Mass since the 1960s, when the Latin Mass passed away in the days of Vatican II. I'd read an article in The New York Times about the new translation, which sounded awkward, convoluted, tone deaf, unmusical, etc., if allegedly accurate.
Unforunately, I found the Commonweal piece on the new liturgy as dull and wooden as the new translation itself is supposed to be. Luckily, though, I found a moving article on John Berryman and his late "Eleven Addresses to the Lord."
The article recounted Berryman's struggles with alcoholism and despair and how a conversion experience in a a rehab center had led to the "Addresses." Tragically, the conversion didn't take, not did the alcoholism cure, and Berryman killed himself by leaping off the Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis.
Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill's piece places Berryman as one those spiritual seekers who swerve between great doubt and great faith. His "Eleven Addresses to the Lord," found in his 1970 "Love & Fame," one of the first poetry books I bought as an adult, reflect that conflict. Cahill doesn't even mention Berryman's best-known work, "The Dream Songs," with which he is saddled. It's one of the masterpieces of his generation, but its popularity has taken away attention to Berryman's other work. It's refreshing that she concentrates on his religious poetry.
Many of the poets of Berryman's generation were known for their personality extremes. While Berryman wasn't medically diagnosed as manic depressive like his sometimes admirer Robert Lowell, Berryman showed all of the erratic behavior and mood swings of his peers.
Berryman's longing for religious grace and spiritual healing was among his most admirable features, along with his handling of the vernacular as a poet and his depth as a scholar and critic. Thanks to Cahill for examining this side of him. The piece made me wish for a "Collected Poems" of Berryman, as has been done for Lowell. Editions of "Dream Songs" abound, but I would love to have all of Berryman's work collected in one place.