Richard Howard

b. 1929
Richard HowardStephen Barker
A distinguished poet, critic and translator, Richard Howard holds a unique place in contemporary American letters. Howard is credited with introducing modern French fiction—particularly examples of the Nouveau Roman—to the American public; his translation of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal (1984) won a National Book Award in 1984. A selection of Howard's critical prose was collected in the volume Paper Trail: Selected Prose 1965-2003 (2004), and his collection of essays Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States since 1950 (1969) was praised as one of the first comprehensive overviews of American poetry from the latter half of the twentieth century. First and foremost a poet, Howard’s many volumes of verse have also received widespread acclaim; he won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his collection Untitled Subjects.

Known for his erudition and interest in the nature of artistic expression, Howard's poems are often dramatic monologues in which figures from history and literature speak directly to the reader. From Howard’s first book, Quantities (1962), his approach to the dramatic monologue has set him apart as a unique practitioner of contemporary poetry. Using voices from characters as disparate as Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Henry James, and Orpheus among others, Howard’s narrative monologues are darkly comic, laced with irony and sadness, and distinctly learned. Early books such as The Damages (1967) and Untitled Subjects (1969) saw Howard honing his skill with a wide range of subjects and voices. Frequently addressing the incommensurability of word and world, Barbara Fischer asserted in her review of Talking Cures (2003) that “in [Howard’s] work’s insistent writtenness and its collages of polyvocal quotation he reminds us that the immediacy of contact—vocal, erotic, somatic, sensory contact—is out of reach as soon as we write about it.”.

Howard’s work in the 1970s and ‘80s continued to explore the use of monologue, dialogue, and other forms of the speaking voice in his poetry. In Two-Part Inventions (1974) and Fellow Feelings (1976), he creates imaginary conversations between historical persons, uncovering shared assumptions and emotions between himself and such writers as Walt Whitman and Charles Baudelaire. The poems of Misgivings (1979) are all addressed to the subjects of nineteenth-century photographic portraits, while those of Lining Up (1984) are the voices of artists and musicians. Speaking to Allen Wiggins of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Howard explained that in his poems he tries to get "out of the way of voices, letting the voices speak through me and for me, and I have discovered that my own experience can be represented much better than it can be presented." With his tenth book of poetry, Like Most Revelations (1994), Howard inhabits the voices of Edith Wharton and Walt Whitman, but he also offers elegies for friends who have died from AIDS and cancer. "AIDS is everywhere in this book, as it is everywhere in the communities—artistic and intellectual, urban, gay—to which this book most commonly refers and addresses itself," remarked Linda Gregerson in Poetry. Gregerson summed up the volume as "limber, literate, jubilantly crafted, wry, and, above all, densely peopled."

Howard has continued to publish prolifically since Like Most Revelations. His volume of selected poems, Inner Voices: Selected Poems, 1963-2003, includes works selected and ordered by Howard from numerous of his early works. Including poems on musical figures Wagner, Rossini, and Offenbach; sculptors Da Fiesole and Dorothea Tanning; theater figure Sarah Bernhardt; photographer Nadar; and many others, Howard also admits poems in such traditional styles as epistles, love poems, elegies, and homages. Howard's signature dramatic monologues are also plentiful. "On the whole, these densely figured poems justify the copious ambition they embody," observed a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. In an interview with Poets & Writers, Howard admitted, “I’ve been aware just recently, in the last four or five years, that the poems get written with some sense of a sureness that I wouldn’t have dared.” That self-assurance came across clearly in his 2008 collection, Without Saying, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Howard's work as a translator has also won critical praise. "Had Howard done nothing but translate all his life he would have been one of the greatest translators who ever blessed English," commented reviewer Willis Regier in Prairie Schooner. The translator of more than one hundred books into English, and recipient of several awards for his work, including an American Book Award, Howard began this career in 1957 when he was offered the chance to translate a book from the original French. After translating the book, he subsequently met the author and found that he "knew more about that man's mind than I did about most of my friends because I had worked with his prose," Howard told Wiggins. "The relationship of the translator to the writer is an erotic relationship always, and you learn something about the person that you're working with in an almost plastic, physical way that you can almost never learn about your friends." Howard's translations have made him "one of the outstanding translators of contemporary French literature," Ziegfeld stated. Known primarily as a translator of contemporary French writers, including those associated with the Nouveau Roman and critical theorist Roland Barthes, Howard won the American Book Award for his translation of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (1983). Paul Zweig of the New York Times Book Review called Howard's version "the first genuinely readable Baudelaire in English…It is a triumph of tone." In the Nation, Peter Brooks claimed that Howard's translation "will long stand as definitive, a superb poetic guide to France's greatest poet."

Howard’s work as a critic has also yielded success. His selected volume of prose, Paper Trail: Selected Prose, 1965-2003, gathered many of his essays and introductions, including a 1973 essay on Emily Dickinson, written during a time when the poet was at the point of being rediscovered by academics and poetry readers. Elsewhere, he discourses on French literature; offers an appreciation of the writing of Brassai; assembles critical assessments of Jane Austen, Marianne Moore, and Yourcenar; and examines the power inherent in storytelling. Howard shows his appreciation for the rising generation of poets, as in his essay in praise of the work of then-new poet J.D. McClatchy. Howard also offers personal insights on his Jewish heritage, his younger days in Cleveland Heights, his wonder at his grandfather's tremendous library, and his public education.

Howard’s many awards include the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the PEN Translation Medal, the Levinson Prize and the Ordre National du Mérite from the French government. For many years he was the poetry editor of the Paris Review. Evaluations of Howard usually judge his work as a poet to be his most important contribution to contemporary American literature. However, his work has and continues to attract a wide and enthusiastic audience among readers, academics, and critics alike.

Career

Poet, critic, editor, lexicographer, educator, and translator. Worked as lexicographer with World Publishing Co., 1953-57; Yale University, Whitney Humanities Center, Luce Visiting Scholar, 1983-84; University of Houston, professor of English, 1987-97; University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, Ropes Professor of Comparative Literature, 1988; Columbia University, New York, NY, professor of writing and professor of practice in the School of the Arts, 1997—. Fellow at Morse College and Yale University.

Bibliography

POETRY (EXCEPT WHERE NOTED)
  • Quantities, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1962.
  • The Damages, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1967.
  • Untitled Subjects, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1969.
  • Findings: A Book of Poems, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1971.
  • Two-Part Inventions, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1974.
  • Fellow Feelings, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1976.
  • Misgivings, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1979.
  • Lining Up, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1984.
  • Quantities/Damages: Early Poems (contains Quantities and The Damages), Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1984.
  • No Traveller: Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Like Most Revelations: New Poems, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1994.
  • If I Dream I Have You, I Have You: Poems, Tibor de Nagy Editions (New York, NY), 1997.
  • Talking Cures: New Poems, Turtle Point Press (New York, NY), 2002.
  • Inner Voices: Selected Poems, 1963-2003, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.
  • The Silent Treatment, Turtle Point Press (New York, NY), 2005.
  • Without Saying, Turtle Point Press (New York, NY), 2008.
OTHER
  • Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States since 1950, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1969, new edition, 1980.
  • (Editor, with Thomas Victor) Preferences: Fifty-One American Poets Choose Poems from Their Own Work and from the Past, Viking (New York, NY), 1974.
  • (With Michael Filey) Passengers Must Not Ride on Fenders, Green Tree, 1974.
  • (Editor) Jule Roy, The War in Algeria, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1975.
  • Hellenistics, Red Ozier Press (Madison, WI), 1984.
  • (Contributor) Richard Marshall, Robert Mapplethorpe, New York Graphic Society Books (New York, NY), 1988.
  • (Interviewer) Lee Krasner: Umber Paintings, 1959-1962, Robert Miller Gallery (New York, NY), 1993.
  • (Coauthor) Brassai: The Eye of Paris, Museum of Fine Arts (New York, NY), 1999.
  • Paper Trail: Selected Prose, 1965-2003, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.
  • With Brassai) Proust in the Power Photography, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2006.
  • (Author of preface)The Curved Planks: Poems / A Bilingual Edition, translated by Yves Bonnefoy and Hoyt Rogers, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2006.
 
TRANSLATOR

  • Alain Robbe-Grillet, The Voyeur, Grove (New York, NY), 1958.
  • Claude Simon, The Wind, Braziller (New York, NY), 1959, reprinted, 1986.
  • Claude Simon, The Grass, Braziller (New York, NY), 1960, reprinted, 1986.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet, Two Novels: Jealousy [and] In the Labyrinth (also see below), Grove (New York, NY), 1960.
  • Andre Breton, Nadja, Grove (New York, NY), 1961.
  • Michel Butor, Degrees, Methuen (London, England), 1961, 1966.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet, Last Year at Marienbad, Grove (New York, NY), 1962.
  • Michel Butor, Mobile, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1963.
  • Marc Saporta, Composition No. 1, A Novel, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1963.
  • Simone de Beauvoir, Force of Circumstance, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1963.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet, The Erasers, Grove (New York, NY), 1964.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet, For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction, Grove (New York, NY), 1966.
  • Jean Hytier, The Poetics of Paul Valery, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1966.
  • Jules Renard, Natural Histories, Horizon Press (New York, NY), 1966.
  • Maurice Nadeau, History of Surrealism, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1967.
  • Michel Leiris, Manhood: A Journey from Childhood into the Fierce Order of Virility, Grossman (New York, NY), 1968.
  • Claude Simon, Histoire, Braziller (New York, NY), 1968.
  • Andre Gide, The Immoralist, Knopf (New York, NY), 1970.
  • Jean Genet, May Day Speech, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1970.
  • Jean Cocteau, Professional Secrets: An Autobiography, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1970.
  • E.M. Cioran, Fall into Time, Quadrangle (Chicago, IL), 1970.
  • Claude Simon, The Battle of Pharsalus, Braziller (New York, NY), 1971.
  • Albert Camus, A Happy Death, Knopf (New York, NY), 1972.
  • Roland Barthes, Critical Essays, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1972.
  • Maurice Pons, Rosa, Dial (New York, NY), 1972.
  • Robbe-Grillet, Project for a Revolution in New York, Grove (New York, NY), 1972.
  • Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, University Press Books (Berkeley, CA), 1973.
  • Claude Morin, Quebec versus Ottawa: The Struggle for Self-Government, 1960-1972, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1976.
  • Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues, The Motorcycle, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1976.
  • Germaine Tillion, France and Algeria, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1976.
  • E.M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born, Viking (New York, NY), 1976.
  • Tzvetan Todorov, The Poetics of Prose, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1977.
  • Saint-John Perse, Song for an Equinox, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1977.
  • Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1977.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet, In the Labyrinth, Grove (New York, NY), 1978.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jealousy, Grove (New York, NY), 1978.
  • Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1978.
  • Laurent De Brunhoff, The One Pig with Horns, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1979.
  • Roland Barthes, New Critical Essays, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1980.
  • Andre Pieyre De Mandiargues, The Girl beneath the Lion, Riverrun Press (Edison, NJ), 1980.
  • Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1981.
  • Andre Pieyre De Mandiargues, The Girl on the Motorcycle, Riverrun Press (Edison, NJ), 1981.
  • Andre Pieyre De Mandiargues, The Margin, Riverrun Press (Edison, NJ), 1981.
  • Denis Moniere, Ideologies in Quebec: The Historical Development, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1981.
  • Maurice Sachs, Witches' Sabbath, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1982.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet, Le Maison de Rendez-vous, Grove (New York, NY), 1982.
  • Roland Barthes, The Empire of Signs, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1982.
  • (With Matthew Ward) Roland Barthes, The Fashion System, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1983.
  • Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal, David R. Godine (Boston, MA), 1983.
  • Andre Gide, Corydon, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1983.
  • E.M. Cioran, Drawn and Quartered, Seaver Books (New York, NY), 1983.
  • Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.
  • Marguerite Yourcenar, The Dark Brain of Piranesi, and Other Essays, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984.
  • Charles De Gaulle, The Complete War Memoirs of Charles De Gaulle, 1940-1946, Da Capo Press (New York, NY), 1984.
  • Jacques Leibowitch, A Strange Virus of Unknown Origin: A.I.D.S., Ballantine (New York, NY), 1985.
  • Georges Duby, William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1985.
  • Roland Barthes, The Responsibility of Forms, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1985.
  • Claude Simon, The Flanders Road, Riverrun Press (Edison, NJ), 1986.
  • Julien Gracq, The Opposing Shore, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1986.
  • Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge, The Last Flowers of Manet, Abrams (New York, NY), 1986.
  • Barthes, Michelet, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1986.
  • Barthes, The Rustle of Language, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1986.
  • Robbe-Grillet, Le Maison de Rendez-vous [and] Djinn, Grove (New York, NY), 1987.
  • Gracq, Balcony in the Forest, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1987.
  • Andre Gide, Return from the U.S.S.R. and Afterthoughts on My Return, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1987.
  • Jean Cocteau, Past Tense: The Cocteau Diaries, Volume I, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1987.
  • E.M. Cioran, History and Utopia, Seaver Books (New York, NY), 1987.
  • Christophe Betaille, Annam, New Directions (New York, NY), 1996.
  • Jules Verne, Paris in the Twentieth Century, introduction by Eugen Weber, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.
  • Christophe Bataille, Hourmaster, New Directions (New York, NY), 1998.
  • E.M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1998.
  • Marguerite Duras, No More, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 1998.
  • Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma, Modern Library (New York, NY), 2000.
  • Honore de Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece; and, Gambara, New York Review of Books (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Claude Simon, The Trolley, New Press (New York, NY), 2002.
  • Maurice Maeterlinck, Hothouses: Poems, 1889, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2003.
  • Robbe-Grillet, Repetition: A Novel, Grove (New York, NY), 2003.
  • Pierre Michon, Lives under Glass, Archipelago Books (Brooklyn, NY), 2006.
Also translator of Barthes' The Semiotic Challenge, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), and Jean Paulhan's Flowers of Tarbes, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE).



Also author of Hellenistics. Director, Braziller Poetry Series, eighteen volumes. Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and numerous literary journals. Poetry editor, Paris Review. Former poetry editor, New American Review, Shenandoah, and New Republic.

Further Reading

BOOKS
  • Authors in the News, Volume 1, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1976.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 7, 1977, Volume 10, 1979, Volume 47, 1988.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
  • Howard, Richard, Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States since 1950, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1969, new edition, 1980.
PERIODICALS
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 31, 1974, Allen Wiggins, interview with Richard Howard.
  • Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2004, review of Paper Trail: Selected Prose, 1965-2003, p. 727.
  • Nation, November 6, 1982, Peter Brooks, "The Flowers of Evil," p. 571; December 24, 1983, Grace Schulman, review of Lining Up, p. 669.
  • New Republic, March 27, 1995, Robert Boyers, review of Like Most Revelations, p. 39.
  • New York Times Book Review, July 25, 1982, Paul Zweig, review of Les Fleurs du Mal, p. 3.
  • Poetry, February, 1996, Linda Gregerson, review of Like Most Revelations, p. 287.
  • Prairie Schooner, summer, 2005, Willis Regier, review of Inner Voices: Selected Poems, 1963-2003, p. 181.
  • Publishers Weekly, September 20, 2004, review of Inner Voices, p. 58.
ONLINE
  • Academy of American Poets Web site, http://www.poets.org/ (March 2, 2006), biography of Richard Howard.
  • Columbia University Graduate Writing Program Web site, http://wwwapp.cc.columbia.edu/art/app/arts/writing/ (March 25, 2006), biography of Richard Howard.
  • State University of New York at Albany Web site, http://www.albany.edu/ (March 25, 2006), biography of Richard Howard.

Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

LIFE SPAN 1929–

Richard Howard

Biography

A distinguished poet, critic and translator, Richard Howard holds a unique place in contemporary American letters. Howard is credited with introducing modern French fiction—particularly examples of the Nouveau Roman—to the American public; his translation of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal (1984) won a National Book Award in 1984. A selection of Howard's critical prose was collected in the volume Paper Trail: Selected . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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