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Happy 100th birthday, John Berryman

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Despite a lifetime of chaos and alcoholism, John Berrymans poetry is brilliantly funny. Sam Leith toasts his pal, whose work he has adored since he was a teenager

The great American poet John Berryman would have been 100 today, had he lived. One of the things most people know about him is that he did not. He killed himself at 57 after a lifetime of chaos, alcoholism, mental illness and extremely hard work.

During his lifetime he was competitive. One of his late collections was called Love & Fame, and he was very interested in both. When Robert Frost died in 1963, Berrymans reaction was: Its scarey [sic]. Whos number one? Whos number one? Cal is number one, isnt he? Cal was Robert Lowell.

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