Book details

Poets in Their Youth

A Memoir

Author: Eileen Simpson

Poets in Their Youth

Poets in Their Youth


About This Book

In 1942, Eileen Simpson—then Eileen Mulligan—married John Berryman. Both were in their twenties; Eileen had just graduated from Hunter College and John had but one slim volume of poetry to his...

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Book Details

In 1942, Eileen Simpson—then Eileen Mulligan—married John Berryman. Both were in their twenties; Eileen had just graduated from Hunter College and John had but one slim volume of poetry to his name. They moved frequently—from New York to Boston, then Princeton—chasing jobs, living simply, relying on the hospitality of more successful friends like Robert Lowell and Jean Stafford, or R. P. Blackmur and his wife, Helen. Rounding out their circle of intimates were other struggling poets like Randall Jarrell and Delmore Schwartz. Berryman alternately wrote and despaired of writing. Everyone stayed up late arguing about poetry.
Poets in Their Youth is a portrait of their marriage, yes, but it is also a portrait of a group of spectacularly intelligent friends at a particular time, in a particular place, all aflame with literature. Simpson's recollections are so tender, her narrative so generous, it is almost possible to imagine the story has a different ending—even as Schwartz's marriage crumbles, as Lowell succumbs to a manic episode, as her own relationship with Berryman buckles under the strain of his drinking, his infidelity, his depression.
Filled with winning anecdotes and moments of startling poignancy, Simpson's now classic memoir shows some of the most brilliant literary minds of the second half of the twentieth century at their brightest and most achingly human.

Imprint Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



In The News

Poets is part of her journey into autonomy. Its very composition is a quiet act of unfolding triumph; it's both a memorial to the men Simpson admired and an admonitory epitaph on lives lived at often false and ugly odds with their own aspirations toward truth and beauty. Read now, it seems like a fitting herald of our own time, when blustering male declarations of high moral principle are giving way to more convincing portrayals of social relations from women artists.” —Lee Siegel, The New York Times Book Review

“An indispensable memoir.” —Christopher Merrill, Los Angeles Review of Books

“It is as powerful and knowing an account of the literary muse and its effects as one could hope to read, and the neglect into which it seems to be sliding is a genuine injustice . . . Poets in Their Youth . . . never sensationalizes these brilliant but wildly erratic young men, only seeks to understand them . . . Poets in Their Youth has more to tell us about the minds and lives of poets than anything else I've read--except, of course, the poems themselves.” —Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“Mrs. Simpson has added a good deal to the stock of available reality . . . Reading the early chapters of this memoir, I found it hard to believe that Berryman would leap to his death from a bridge; Jarrell, a probable suicide, be run over by a car; Schwartz end his life a virtual derelict in a midtown Manhattan hotel; Lowell, worn out by manic-depressive episodes and alcohol, be found dead in a New York taxicab . . . Eileen Simpson, a shrewd manager of her unhappy saga, doesn't belabor its melodrama, only foreshadows its culmination here and there . . . While the writers talked, Mrs. Simpson listened, and her record of their conversation is unfailingly plausible.” —James Atlas, The New York Times

“Simpson's book is absorbing and transporting, one of the best windows we have back to a significant and somewhat magical time . . . it is Simpson's position as a listener which helps make her book as rich as it is.” —Lisa Levy, Full Stop

“A whole doomed generation of writers, the nights of wine, dancing, and brilliant talk giving way to paranoia, envy, madness, and death.” —The Times Literary Supplement

“Discerning, often probing, and remarkably free of rancor . . . The book is loving, at long distance, and from the remove of forty years . . . Berryman is given every latitude by Mrs. Simpson, who understood him very well at close range.” —Howard Moss, The New York Review of Books

About the Creators

Poets in Their Youth

Poets in Their Youth