This book completely changed how I think about politics, society and, well, just about everything. She was a phenomenal person with an extraordinarily clear and resilient mind. This exploration of what constitutes the public realm is a stunning piece of political and moral philosophy, and probably her greatest work. She gets written about a lot but I still think she's neglected. I'd really like it if she was alive so I could be her friend.
The only reason I haven't chosen the Collected is because it is intimidatingly large. Also, an earlier Selected was my introduction to Auden so I guess it changed my life first. I really don't know where to start. Just read the poems. They taught me that it is possible to have all the normal human feelings (fear, jealousy, love, sympathy) but about poems written by a dead person I'll never meet.
77 Dream Songs- John Berryman
In this landmark book Berryman invented a form to hold what he had to say. It's a kind of broken and demented sonnet but uniquely his. It's a stunningly original exploration of a life, written in every conceivable register from esoteric philosophy to baby talk. Berryman's voice is idiosyncratic, disturbing, heartbreaking and very funny. The Dream Songs rid me of any illusions about the romance of psychological pain.
This book showed me what novels can do. It's enormous but still it seems barely credible that he manages to fit in all that he does: family, class, God, justice, all the history, politics and sociology of 19th century Russia you're ever likely to need, there's theology, love stories, lust, murder. It would be easier to list things that aren't in it. And somehow it still reads like a thriller. It's ridiculous.
I keep this on my desk because I want it so frequently. Everything about these stories and their author fascinates me. He wasn't a prophet or anything like that; just a strange and singular storyteller. He understood the modern age better than anyone else, which is what allowed him to be funny as often as he is desperate. These stories taught me what black humour is.