John Hollander

1929–2013
John Hollanderwww.nigelbeale.com
John Hollander was one of contemporary poetry’s foremost poets, editors, and anthologists. Over the course of an astonishing career, Hollander influenced generations of poets and thinkers with his critical work, his anthologies and his poetry. In the words of J. D. McClatchy, Hollander was "a formidable presence in American literary life." Hollander’s eminence as a scholar and critic was in some ways greater than his reputation as a poet. His groundbreaking introduction to form and prosody Rhyme’s Reason (1981), as well as his work as an anthologist, has ensured him a place as one of the twentieth-century’s great, original literary critics. Hollander’s critical writing is known for its extreme erudition and graceful touch. Hollander’s poetry possesses many of the same qualities, though the wide range of allusion and technical virtuosity can make it seem “difficult” to a general readership.

Hollander's first poetry collection, A Crackling of Thorns (1958) won the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets Awards, judged by W. H. Auden. And in fact James K. Robinson in the Southern Review found that Hollander's "early poetry resembles Auden's in its wit, its learned allusiveness, its prosodic mastery.” Hollander’s technique continued to develop through later books like Visions from the Ramble (1965) and The Night Mirror (1971). Broader in range and scope than his previous work, Hollander’s Tales Told of the Fathers (1975) and Spectral Emanations (1978) heralded his arrival as a major force in contemporary poetry. Reviewing Spectral Emanations for the New Republic, Harold Bloom reflected on his changing impressions of the poet's work over the first twenty years of his career: "I read [A Crackling of Thorns]…soon after I first met the poet, and was rather more impressed by the man than by the book. It has taken twenty years for the emotional complexity, spiritual anguish, and intellectual and moral power of the man to become the book. The enormous mastery of verse was there from the start, and is there still…But there seemed almost always to be more knowledge and insight within Hollander than the verse could accommodate." Bloom found in Spectral Emanations "another poet as vital and accomplished as [A. R.] Ammons, [James] Merrill, [W. S.] Merwin, [John] Ashbery, James Wright, an immense augmentation to what is clearly a group of major poets."

Shortly after Spectral Emanations, Hollander published Blue Wine and Other Poems (1979), a volume which a number of critics have identified as an important milestone in Hollander's life and career. Reviewing the work for the New Leader, Phoebe Pettingell remarked, "I would guess from the evidence of Blue Wine that John Hollander is now at the crossroads of his own midlife journey, picking out a new direction to follow." Hollander’s new direction proved to be incredibly fruitful: his next books were unqualified successes. Powers of Thirteen (1983) won the Bollingen Prize from Yale University and In Time and Place (1986) was highly praised for its blend of verse and prose. In the Times Literary Supplement, Jay Parini believed "an elegiac tone dominates this book, which begins with a sequence of thirty-four poems in the In Memoriam stanza. These interconnecting lyrics are exquisite and moving, superior to almost anything else Hollander has ever written." Parini described the book as “a landmark in contemporary poetry." McClatchy held up In Time and Place as evidence that Hollander is "part conjurer and part philosopher, one of our language's true mythographers and one of its very best poets."

Hollander continued to publish challenging, technically stunning verse throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. His Selected Poetry (1993) was released simultaneously with Tesserae (1993); Figurehead and Other Poems (1999) came a few years later. "The work collected in [Tesserae and Other Poems and Selected Poetry] makes clear that John Hollander is a considerable poet," New Republic reviewer Vernon Shetley remarked, "but it may leave readers wondering still, thirty-five years after his first book…exactly what kind of poet Hollander is." Shetley recognized the sheer variety of Hollander’s work, but also noted the peculiar absence of anything like a personality, “as if the poet had taken to heart, much more fully than its author, Eliot's dictum that poetry should embody 'emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet.'" Another frequent charge leveled against Hollander’s work is that it is “philosophical verse.” Reviewing A Draft of Light (2008) for Jacket Magazine, Alex Lewis argued that instead of writing “philosophizing verse,” Hollander actually “borrows from philosophy a language and a way of thought. Hollander’s poems are frequently meta-poems that create further meaning out of their own self-interrogations, out of their own reflexivity.” As always, the poems are underpinned by an enormous amount of learning and incredible technical expertise and require “a good deal of time and thought to unravel,” Lewis admitted. But the rewards are great: “the book deepens every time that I read it,” Lewis wrote, adding that Hollander’s later years have given his work grandeur akin to Thomas Hardy and Wallace Stevens.

Hollander’s work as a critic and anthologist has been widely praised from the start. As editor, he has worked on volumes of poets as diverse as Ben Jonson and Dante Gabriel Rossetti; his anthologist’s credentials are impeccable. He was widely praised for the expansive American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century (1994), two volumes of verse including ballads, sonnets, epic poetry, and even folk songs. Herbert Mitgang of the New York Times praised the range of poets and authors included in the anthology: "Mr. Hollander has a large vision at work in these highly original volumes of verse. Without passing critical judgment, he allows the reader to savor not only the geniuses but also the second-rank writers of the era." Hollander also worked on the companion volume, American Poetry: The Twentieth Century (2000) with fellow poets and scholars Robert Hass, Carolyn Kizer, Nathaniel Mackey, and Marjorie Perloff.

Hollander’s prose and criticism has been read and absorbed by generations of readers and writers. Perhaps his most lasting work is Rhyme’s Reason. In an interview with Paul Devlin of St. John’s University, Hollander described the impetus behind the volume: “Thinking of my own students, and of how there was no such guide to the varieties of verse in English to which I could send them and that would help teach them to notice things about the examples presented—to see how the particular stanza or rhythmic scheme or whatever was being used by the particular words of the particular poem, for example—I got to work and with a speed which now alarms me produced a manuscript for the first edition of the book. I’ve never had more immediate fun writing a book.” Hollander’s other works of criticism include The Work of Poetry (1993), The Poetry of Everyday Life (1997), and Poetry and Music (2003).

John Hollander received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Levinson Prize, a MacArthur Foundation grant, and the poet laureateship of Connecticut. He taught at Hunter College, Connecticut College and Yale, where he was the Sterling Professor emeritus of English.

Career

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, junior fellow, Society of Fellows, 1954-57; Connecticut College, New London, lecturer in English, 1957-59; Yale University, New Haven, CT, instructor, 1959-61, assistant professor, 1961-63, associate professor, 1964-66, professor of English, 1977-86, A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor, 1987—; Hunter College of the City University of New York, New York, NY, professor of English, 1966-77. Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Gauss Lecturer, 1962, 1965; visiting professor at the Linguistic Institute, Indiana University, 1964, and at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, 1965; Churchill College, Cambridge, Overseas Fellow, 1967-68. Member of the poetry board, Wesleyan University Press, 1959-62.

Bibliography

POETRY
  • A Crackling of Thorns, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1958.
  • A Beach Vision, privately printed, 1962.
  • Movie Going and Other Poems, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1962.
  • Various Owls, Norton (New York, NY), 1963.
  • Visions from the Ramble, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1965.
  • The Quest of the Gole, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1966.
  • Philomel, Turret (London, England), 1968.
  • Types of Shape, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1969, expanded edition, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1991.
  • The Night Mirror, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1971.
  • Town and Country Matters, David R. Godine (Boston, MA), 1972.
  • Selected Poems, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1972.
  • The Head of the Bed, David R. Godine (Boston, MA), 1974.
  • Tales Told of the Fathers, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1975.
  • Reflections on Espionage, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1976.
  • Spectral Emanations: New and Selected Poems, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1978.
  • In Place, Abattoir (Omaha, NE), 1978.
  • Blue Wine and Other Poems, Johns Hopkins Press (Baltimore, MD), 1979.
  • Looking Ahead, Nadja (New York, NY), 1982.
  • Powers of Thirteen: Poems, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1983.
  • A Hollander Garland, Tamazunchale Press (Newton, IA), 1985.
  • In Time and Place, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1986.
  • Harp Lake: Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.
  • Some Fugitives Take Cover, Sea Cliff (New York, NY) and Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.
  • Selected Poetry, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
  • Tesserae and Other Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
  • Figurehead & Other Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
  • Picture Window, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
  • A Draft of Light, Knopf (New York, NY), 2008.
EDITOR
  • (With Harold Bloom) The Wind and the Rain: An Anthology of Poems for Young People, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1961.
  • (With Harold Bloom) Selected Poems of Ben Jonson, Dell (New York, NY), 1961.
  • (With Anthony Hecht) Jiggery-Pokery: A Compendium of Double Dactyls, illustrated by Milton Glaser, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1966.
  • Poems of Our Moment, Pegasus (Indianapolis, IN), 1968.
  • American Short Stories since 1945, Harper (New York, NY), 1968.
  • Modern Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticism, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1968.
  • (With Frank Kermode) The Oxford Anthology of English Literature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1973.
  • (With Reuben Brower and Helen Vendler) I. A. Richards: Essays in His Honor, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1973.
  • (With Irving Howe) Literature as Experience, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1979.
  • (Author of text) Saul Steinberg, Dal Vero (portraits), Library Fellows of the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY), 1983.
  • (Editor) Harold Bloom, The Poetics of Influence, Schwab (New Haven, CT), 1988.
  • (Author of introduction) Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Essential Rossetti, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1990.
  • Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology, Signet (New York, NY), 1992.
  • American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, Library of America (New York, NY), 1993.
  • American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, Volume 1: Philip Freneau to Walt Whitman, Volume 2: Herman Melville to Trumbull Tickney; American Indian Poetry; Folk Songs and Spirituals, Library of America (New York, NY), 1994.
  • Animal Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
  • The Gazer's Spirit: Poems Speaking to Silent Works of Art, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1995.
  • Garden Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
  • Committed to Memory: One Hundred Best Poems to Memorize, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 1997.
  • (Advisory Editor) Encyclopedia of American Poetry. The Nineteenth Century, Fitzroy Dearborn (Chicago, IL), 1998. (Selection) Christmas Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
  • War Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
  • (With Robert Hass, Carolyn Kizer, Nathaniel Mackey, and Marjorie Perloff) American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, two volumes, Library of America (New York, NY), 2000.
  • Sonnets: From Dante to the Present, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
  • (With Joanna Weber) Words for Images, Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT), 2001.
  • American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, Library of America (New York, NY), 2003.
  • Poetry for Young People: American Poetry, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, Sterling (New York, NY), 2004.
  • Poems Bewitched and Haunted, Everyman’s Library (New York, NY), 2005.
OTHER
  • The Untuning of the Sky: Ideas of Music in English Poetry, 1500-1700, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1961, reprinted with a new preface, Archon Books (Hamden, CT), 1993.
  • Images of Voice, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1969.
  • An Entertainment for Elizabeth, Being a Masque of the Seven Motions; or, Terpsichore Unchained (play), produced in New York, 1969.
  • The Immense Parade on Supererogation Day, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1972.
  • Vision and Resonance: Two Senses of Poetic Form, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1975, 2nd edition, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1985.
  • The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1981.
  • Rhyme's Reason: A Guide to English Verse, Yale University Press (New York, NY), 1981.
  • Melodious Guile: Fictive Pattern in Poetic Language, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1988
  •  (With Giuliano Briganti) William Bailey, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1991.
  • The Work of Poetry, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
  • The Poetry of Everyday Life, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1998.
  • Poetry and Music, Routledge (London, England), 2003.
 Also author of Kinneret, 1987. Contributor of verse and prose to New Yorker, Partisan Review, Kenyon Review, Paris Review, Esquire, Commentary, and other popular and scholarly journals and magazines. Editorial associate for poetry, Partisan Review, 1959-64. Contributing editor, Harper's, 1970-71.

Further Reading

BOOKS
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5, 1976; Volume 8, 1978.
  • Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, First Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
PERIODICALS
  • America, June 17, 1989, p. 592; November 13, 1993, p. 18.
  • American Scholar, spring, 1994, p. 302.
  • American Spectator, September, 1994, p. 64.
  • Antioch Review, summer, 1998, John Kennedy, review of The Work of Poetry, p. 378.
  • Booklist, August, 1998, Ray Olson, review of The Best American Poetry, 1998, p. 1953; March 1, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Figurehead & Other Poems, p. 1145; March 15, 1999, Ray Olson, review of American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, p. 1275; May 15, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of Picture Window, p. 1633.
  • Boston Globe, January 16, 1989, p. 17; May 16, 1993, p. B40.
  • Christian Science Monitor, August 18, 1976, p. 27; June 2, 1989, p. 13.
  • Commentary, September, 1975, p. 94; March, 1994, p. 54.
  • Commonweal, April 24, 1998, Daria Donnelly, review of The Work of Poetry, p. 25.
  • Contemporary Review, November, 1999, review of American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, p. 277.
  • Explicator, summer, 2000, Philip Harlan Christensen, review of A Time of Year, p. 220.
  • Georgia Review, summer, 1977, p. 533; spring, 1994, pp. 162-172.
  • Harper's, November, 1975.
  • Journal of Modern Literature, spring, 1999, Irving Malin, review of The Book of Poetry, p. 476.
  • Library Journal, June 15, 1978; September 15, 1995, David Kirby, review of The Gazer's Spirit: Poems Speaking to Silent Works of Art, p. 66; December, 1997, Robert Kelly, review of The Work of Poetry, p. 106; August, 1998, Fred Muratori, review of The Best American Poetry: 1998, p. 94; February 15, 1999, Daniel L. Guillory, review of Figurehead & Other Poems, p. 156; April 1, 2000, Daniel L. Guillory, review of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, p. 105; May 15, 2003, Fred Muratori, review of Picture Window, p. 93.
  • London Review of Books, November 9, 1989, p. 24.
  • Nation, December 6, 1971, p. 86; November 11, 1978, p. 517; December 26, 1981, p. 714; October 3, 1994, p. 350.
  • New Leader, November 5, 1979, pp. 21-22; April 5, 1999, Phoebe Pettingell, review of The Work of Poetry, p. 15.
  • New Republic, April 6, 1974, p. 33; November 29, 1975, p. 25; November 20, 1976, p. 23; September 9, p. 42; February 9, 1987, p. 44; February 4, 1991, p. 34; September 6, 1993, pp. 36-40; November 22, 1993, p. 27.
  • Newsweek, January 23, 1984, p. 65.
  • New Yorker, December 6, 1993, p. 147.
  • New York Review of Books, October 2, 1975, p. 30; June 1, 1978, p. 27; December 16, 1993, p. 20; May 9, 1996, Helen Vendler, review of The Gazer's Spirit: Poems Speaking to Silent Works of Art, p. 39; September 21, 2000, Brad Leithauser, review of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, p. 70.
  • New York Times, August 13, 1965, p. 27; September 26, 1969, p. 5; November 2, 1993, p. C20.
  • New York Times Book Review, November 21, 1965, p. 74; November 20, 1966, p. 58; October 17, 1971, p. 4; February 13, 1972, p. 3; November 5, 1972, p. 47; June 16, 1974, p. 6; April 6, 1975, p. 5; August 3, 1975, p. 17; May 28, 1978; February 15, 1987, p. 42; October 22, 1989, p. 16; July 18, 1993, p. 81; April 2, 2000, William H. Pritchard, review of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, p. 10.
  • North American Review, May-August, 2001, Vince Gotera, review of Rhyme's Reason: A Guide to English Verse, p. 74.
  • Poetry, August, 1972, p. 296; January, 1975, p. 229; April, 1977, p. 41; August, 1980, pp. 299-302; December, 1984, p. 171; February, 1988, p. 433; February, 1994, pp. 285-95; March, 1995, p. 340; August, 1999, Christian Wiman, review of The Work of Poetry, P. 286.
  • Publishers Weekly, September 15, 1997, review of The Work of Poetry, p. 60; January 25, 1999, review of Figurehead & Other Poems, p. 90; May 19, 2003, review of Picture Window, p. 67.
  • Southern Review, April, 1978, pp. 348-358.
  • Southwest Review, spring-summer, 2001, William Flesch, "Playing Patience: John Hollander's Reflections on Espionage," p. 228; spring-summer, 2001, David Bromwich, "Self-Deception and Self-Knowledge in John Hollander's Poetry," p. 246.
  • Times Literary Supplement, May 11, 1973, p. 516; August 30, 1974, p. 932; January 18, 1980, p. 65; May 7, 1982, p. 499; March 28, 1986, p. 343; July 17, 1987, p. 767; August 11, 1989, p. 880; March 4, 1994, p. 4.
  • Tribune (Chicago, IL), March 20, 1994, p. 6.
  • Washington Post Book World, December 17, 1978; February 1, 1987, p. 6; December 25, 1988, p. 6; December 26, 1993, p. 1.
  • World Literature Today, spring, 1980, p. 285; winter, 1990, p. 118.
  • Yale Review, autumn, 1972, p. 81; autumn, 1987, p. 115.

Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

LIFE SPAN 1929–2013

John Hollander

Biography

John Hollander was one of contemporary poetry’s foremost poets, editors, and anthologists. Over the course of an astonishing career, Hollander influenced generations of poets and thinkers with his critical work, his anthologies and his poetry. In the words of J. D. McClatchy, Hollander was "a formidable presence in American literary life." Hollander’s eminence as a scholar and critic was in some ways greater than his reputation . . .

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