A poetry reviewer in Choice reviewer suggested that Whittemore's poetry was popular for two reasons: a free-flowing style and a sense of humor. Whittemore's poetry is marked by "end and internal rhyme . . . with highly amusing and often subtle results," the critic wrote. "He skillfully organizes and structures his poems on the basis of line length, yet he avoids relying on visuality for understanding." The writer further compared his work to that of Denise Levertov, Edward Dorn, and Ted Hughes, noting that "his skill in truly humorous verse sets him apart." J. T. Demos similarly commented in Library Journal that "Whittemore has the saving face of humor. . . . Being middle-aged and academic, Whittemore fights both labels as best he can, and then succumbs. When he is at least experimental and most aware of himself he can be charming as so few middle-aged academic poets really are."
Saturday Review critic Lewis Turco stated that Reed Whittemore "has been one of the more influential poets of his generation. . . . Early in his career he began to prove . . . that the best qualities of prose may be a fit vehicle for a new poetry." Expressing his opinion of Whittemore's talents, James Dickey wrote in Poetry that, "as a poet with certain very obvious and amusing gifts, Reed Whittemore is almost everyone's favorite. Certainly he is one of mine. Yet there are dangerous favorites and inconsequential favorites and favorites like pleasant diseases. What of Whittemore? He is as wittily cultural as they come, he has read more than any . . . man anybody knows, has been all kinds of places, yet shuffles along in an old pair of tennis shoes and khaki pants, with his hands in his pockets."
Whittemore expressed his own feelings on poetry in his essay in Poets on Poetry. As he once commented, "I think of poetry as a thing of the mind and tend to judge it, at least in part, by the qualities of mind it displays. . . . The properties of mind I most admire are the daytime properties—those that get us to the store or shop and back, and put us on the radio discussing poetry or arguing about communism and democracy. Most of my poems, therefore, tend to deal primarily with the daytime part of the mind, that is, the prosaic part; only occasionally do they deal directly with the nighttime self."
On the subject of the length of his poetry, Whittemore once stated: "I have been impressed by the insufficiencies of the short-poem art for about twenty-five years; yet I have gone on writing short poems, and I suspect that my reputation as a poet, if I have any, is almost entirely based on a few short poems. I find the genre a congenial one in which to deal with my own insufficiencies, among which is my own rational incapacity to work things out, order them logically, on a big scale."
Whittemore died in 2012 at the age of 92.
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- Ways of Misunderstanding Poetry (lecture), Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1965.
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- Yale Review, winter, 1968.
Poems By REED WHITTEMORE
- ("Again and again we deceive...")
- ("In books, and in sealed...")
- ("When a man dies...")
- A Closet Drama
- A Tale of a Poem and a Squash
More poems by Reed Whittemore (22 poems)
- A Winter Scene
- An English Teacher
- Another Teacher
- Fathers and Sons
- God's Acres
- On the Unimportance of Words
- The Palms
- The Primitives
- The Siege
- The Walk Home
- The Weather This Spring
- The World Around Us
- Thoughts of the California Desert
- Three Poems to Jackson
- Three Sonnets to Time
- Variations on Being Thirty