John Allyn Berryman (October 25, 1914 – January 7, 1972) was an American poet and scholar, born in McAlester, Oklahoma. He was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and was considered a key figure in the Confessional school of poetry. His best-known work is The Dream Songs.
John Berryman was born and raised in Oklahoma until the age of 10, when his father, John Smith, a banker, and his mother, who was a schoolteacher, moved to Tampa, Florida. In 1926, in Florida, when the poet was twelve, his father shot and killed himself just outside his son's bedroom window. Berryman would later write about his father's suicide in poems from The Dream Songs. In "Dream Song #143," he wrote, "That mad drive wiped out my childhood. I put him down/while all the same on forty years I love him/stashed in Oklahoma/besides his brother Will." In "Dream Song #145," he also wrote the following lines about his father:
he only, very early in the morning, rose with his gun and went outdoors by my window and did what was needed. I cannot read that wretched mind, so strong & so undone. I've always tried. I–I'm trying to forgive whose frantic passage, when he could not live an instant longer,in the summer dawn left Henry to live on.