Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 28 October 1929. Education: Columbia University, New York, A.B. 1950 (Phi Beta Kappa), M.A. 1952; Indiana University, Bloomington, Ph.D. 1959. Family: Married 1) Anne Loesser in 1953 (divorced 1977), two daughters; 2) Natalie Charkow in 1981. Career: Junior fellow, Society of Fellows, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1954–57; lecturer, Connecticut College, New London, 1957–59; instructor, 1959–61, assistant professor, 1961–64, and associate professor of English, 1964–66, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; professor of English, Hunter College, City University of New York, 1966–77. Professor of English, 1977–86, since 1986 A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of English, and since 1995 Sterling Professor, Yale University. Gauss Lecturer, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1962, 1965; visiting professor, Indiana University, 1964; lecturer, Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, 1965; Overseas Fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge, 1967–68. Since 1977 fellow, Ezra Stiles College, Yale University. Member of the poetry board, Wesleyan University Press, 1959–62; editorial assistant for poetry, Partisan Review, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1959–65; contributing editor, Harper's magazine, New York, 1969–71. Awards: Yale Series of Younger Poets award, 1958; American Academy grant, 1963; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1973; Levinson prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1974; Guggenheim fellowship, 1979; Modern Language Association Shaughnessy medal, 1982; Bolingen prize, 1983; MacArthur Foundation fellow, 1990–95; Melville Cane award, 1990; Ambassador Book award, 1994; Governor's Arts award, State of Connecticut, 1997; Robert Penn Warren-Cleanth Brooks award, 1998. D. Litt.: Marietta College, Ohio, 1982; D.H.L.:Indiana University, 1990; D.F.A.: Maine College of Art, 1993. Member: Chancellor, Academy of American Poets; American Academy of Arts and Letters; American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Address: Department of English, Box 208302, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520–8302, U.S.A.
A Crackling of Thorns. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1958.
Movie-Going and Other Poems. New York, Atheneum, 1962.
A Beach Vision. Privately printed, 1962.
A Book of Various Owls (for children). New York, Norton, 1963.
Visions from the Ramble. New York, Atheneum, 1965.
The Quest of the Gole (for children). New York, Atheneum, 1966.
Philomel. London, Turret, 1968.
Types of Shape. New York, Atheneum, 1969.
The Night Mirror. New York, Atheneum, 1971.
Town and Country Matters: Erotica and Satirica. Boston, Godine, 1972.
Selected Poems. London, Secker and Warburg, 1972.
The Head of the Bed. Boston, Godine, 1974.
Tales Told of the Fathers. New York, Atheneum, 1975.
Reflections on Espionage: The Question of Cupcake. New York, Atheneum, 1976.
Spectral Emanations: New and Selected Poems. New York, Atheneum, 1978.
In Place. Omaha, Abattoir, 1978.
Blue Wine and Other Poems. Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.
Looking Ahead. New York, Nadja, 1982.
Powers of Thirteen. New York, Atheneum, 1983; London, Secker and Warburg, 1984.
A Hollander Garland. Newton, Iowa, Tamazunchale Press, 1985.
In Time and Place. Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.
Some Fugitives Take Cover. New York, Sea Cliff, 1988.
Harp Lake. New York, Knopf, 1988.
Tesserae. New York, Knopf, 1993.
Selected Poetry. New York, Knopf, 1993.
The Gazer's Spirit: Poems Speaking to Silent Works of Art. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Figurehead & Other Poems. New York, Knopf, 1999.
An Entertainment for Elizabeth, Being a Masque of the Seven Motions; or, Terpsichore Unchained (produced New York, 1969). Published in English Renaissance Monographs 1 (Amherst, Massachusetts), 1972.
The Untuning of the Sky: Ideas of Music in English Poetry 1500–1700. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1961.
Images of Voice: Music and Sound in Romantic Poetry. Cambridge, Heffer, and New York, Chelsea House, 1970.
The Immense Parade on Supererogation Day (for children). New York, Atheneum, 1972.
Vision and Resonance: Two Senses of Poetic Form. New York and London, Oxford University Press, 1975; revised edition, New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1985.
Rhyme's Reason: A Guide to English Verse. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1981; revised edition, 1989.
The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1981.
Dal Vero, with Saul Steinberg. New York, Whitney Museum of Art, 1983.
Melodious Guile: Fictive Pattern in Poetic Language. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1988.
The Work of Poetry. New York, Columbia University Press, 1997.
Editor, Selected Poems, by Ben Jonson. New York, Dell, 1961.
Editor, with Harold Bloom, The Wind and the Rain: An Anthology of Poems for Young People. New York, Doubleday, 1961.
Editor, with Anthony Hecht, Jiggery-Pokery: A Compendium of Double Dactyls. New York, Atheneum, 1967.
Editor, Poems of Our Moment. New York, Pegasus, 1968.
Editor, Modern Poetry: Essays in Criticism. London, Oxford University Press, 1968.
Editor, American Short Stories since 1945. New York, Harper, 1968.
Editor, with others, The Oxford Anthology of English Literature. New York and London, Oxford University Press, 2 vols., 1973.
Editor, with Reuben Brower and Helen Vendler, I.A. Richards: Essays in His Honor. New York, Oxford University Press, 1973.
Editor, with Irving Howe and David Bromwich, Literature as Experience. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1979.
Editor, Poetics of Influence, by Harold Bloom. New Haven, Connecticut, Schwab, 1988.
Editor, The Essential Rossetti. New York, Ecco Press, 1990.
Editor, Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology. New York, Signet, 1992.
Editor, Animal Poems. New York, Knopf, 1994.
Editor, Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize. New York, Academy of American Poets, 1996.
Editor, Garden Poems. New York, Knopf, 1996.
Editor, Frost, by Robert Frost. New York, Knopf, 1997.
Editor, Marriage Poems. New York, Knopf, 1997.
Editor, with Eric L. Haralson, Encyclopedia of American Poetry. The Nineteenth Century. Chicago, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998.
Editor, with David Lehman, The Best American Poetry, 1998. New York, Scribner, 1998.
Editor, War Poems. London, Everyman's Library, 1999.
Editor, with J.D. McClatchy, Christmas Poems. New York, Knopf, 1999.*
Manuscript Collections: Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; Lockwood Memorial Library, State University of New York, Buffalo.
Critical Studies: Alone with America by Richard Howard, New York, Atheneum, 1969, London, Thames and Hudson, 1970, revised edition, Atheneum, 1980; "The Poem As Silhouette: A Conversation with John Hollander" by Philip L. Gerber and Robert J. Gemmett, in Michigan Quarterly Review (Ann Arbor), vol. 9, 1970; "The Sorrows of American Jewish Poetry," in Commentary (New York), March 1972, Figures of Capable Imagination, New York, Seabury Press, 1976, and "The White Light of Trope," in Kenyon Review (Gambier, Ohio), new series 1, 1979, all by Harold Bloom; "'"I Carmina Figurata' di John Hollander" by Cristina Giorcelli, in Scritti in Ricordo di Gabriele Baldini, Rome, Edizione di Storia e Letteratura, 1972; "Some American Masks" by David Bromwich, in Dissent (New York), winter 1973; interview with Richard Jackson, in The Poetry Miscellany 8 (Chattanooga), 1978; "Speaking of Hollander," in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia), September-October 1982, and "John Hollander's In Time and Place," in White Paper, New York, Columbia University Press, 1989, both by J.D. McClatchy; "Virtuosity and Virtue: A Profile of John Hollander" by David Lehman, in Columbia College Today (New York), spring 1983; "God's Spies" by Alfred Corn, in The Metamorphoses of Metaphor, New York, Viking, 1987; Chapter 5 of Fallen from the Symboled World, by Wyatt Prunty, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1990; "'"The Old Refrains All Come Down to This': Dorenlot in the Pastourelle XLVIII of the Chansonnier U and Hollander's 'Notes on the Refrain"'" by Anna Roberts, in RLA (West Lafayette, Indiana), 7, 1995; "Working through Poems" by Langdon Hammer, in Southwest Review (Dallas), 80 (4), autumn 1995; "On John Hollander's 'Owl"'" by Eleanor Cook, in Philosophy and Literature (Baltimore, Maryland), 20 (1), April 1996; "The Dream of the Trumpeter" by the author, in Night Errands: How Poets Use Dreams, edited by Roderick Townley, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.* * *
John Hollander is perhaps the most consummately sophisticated poet currently writing in English. His command of traditional forms and meters seems total (a command well evidenced in the delightful example of his Rhyme's Reason, simultaneously in and about a great range of verse forms), and he has invented a number of intriguing new forms. His erudition and his wit have raised allusion and imitation to new heights. He is, in short, a virtuoso.
It is perhaps not surprising that in much of Hollander's earliest work, and even occasionally in his mature work, this virtuoso facility should appear to be an end in itself. Even then the results can be immensely entertaining, as in the Dick Dongworth poems of "Fragments of a Picaresque Romance":
Say that she was never brave
But only greedy for the grave;
Say Dongworth's rusty armor
Served only to alarm her,
Then write this of me:
"Were she alive and free,
With lips like wine,
John Thomas, my English cousin,
Could pluck her like a raisin."
Waly O for Roseblush
That she was never mine.
Gradually, however, Hollander's relation to the traditions of poetry and his use of that tradition's resources have deepened beyond parody and pastiche, and the poetry itself, while never forfeiting Hollander's individual sense of humor, has grown able to carry a far greater charge of emotion.
Hollander's mature work weds virtuosity and formal invention to philosophical wit and emotional gravity. Many of the resulting poems are dense and demanding (Richmond Lattimore has justly spoken of the frequent experience of "pleased incomprehension" in reading Hollander) but ceaselessly stimulating. The Head of the Bed, for instance, is a complex sequence involving a highly personal use of Hebraic myth in a visionary exploration of nightmare through a chiaroscuro of light and dark, and it is richly symbolic and provocative. Hollander's work is not always difficult of approach, though, and a doubtful reader might try the sequence "In Time" from In Time and Place.
Hollander's work is too various for a brief essay such as this to do anything more than point to a few areas of achievement and interest. He has written some lyrics of a neoclassical grace that would have been admired in the seventeenth century, as in "Last Echo" from Blue Wine and Other Poems:
Echo has the last word,
But she loses the rest,
Giving in to silence
After too little time.
And, after all, what is
A last word, then? After
All the truth has been told—
No more than a cold rhyme.
He has written poems as epistemologically teasing as Stevens (e.g., "Blue Wine," "The Altarpiece Finished"). In Town and Country Matters (its titular allusions to Juvenal and to Hamlet are entirely characteristic) there are "imitations" of Latin poetry that, while undeniably of America and of the twentieth century, have the kind of intertextual purposefulness one thinks of as eighteenth-century Augustan. Hollander's "New York," in its marvelously assured heroic couplets, views its subject through Dr. Johnson's "London: A Poem" and its original in Juvenal's Third Satire. The result is an exhilarating affirmation of what poetic tradition actually means and a work that ranges from devastating satiric wit to poised tenderness.
Much that is best in Hollander comes from his sense of poetry as ceremony. An early poem such as "For Both of You, the Divorce Being Final" seeks an appropriate kind of antiepithalamic ceremony. On a much larger scale the first sequence of poems in In Time and Place enacts a poetic ceremony for a marriage lost, though Milton is by no means the only poetic ghost in attendance. The formality of the poems—tetrameter quatrains rhymed abba— is crucial to the sense of the ceremonial and to the quasi-magical ritual as the poet tells us that he seeks to "rhyme" his lost partner "back to bed again." The mirror pattern of the rhyme scheme articulates the many images of reflection, as in the beautiful and moving "The Looking-Glass of Grief."
Hollander is a highly self-conscious poet, and the mirror has its role here too. The inherited literary tradition is another mirror, in front of which Hollander can place himself and discern, inviting his readers to make the same observation, both what is individual about himself and what he shares with that tradition. In Powers of Thirteen it is the sonnet sequence that serves this purpose. Hollander's sequence is both generic and sui generis. Rhyme's Reason contains a typically adroit exemplum of this new form:
One final recent variant of sonnet form works
Its way purely syllabically, in unrhymed lines
Of thirteen syllables, and then squares these off with one
Less line in the whole poem—a thirteener—by thirteen.
But hidden in its unstressed trees there can lurk rhyming
Lines like these (for instance); as in all syllabic verse
Moments of audible accent pass across the face
Of meditation, summoning old themes to the fair
Courtroom of revision, flowing into parts of eight
And five lines, seven and six, or unrhymed quatrains,
Or triplets, that like this one with unaligned accents
Never jingles in its threes or imbecilities,
Then the final line, uncoupled, can have the last word.
The poems of the sequence are disposed with an attention to numerological pattern that would have delighted any Renaissance or mannerist poet. The mathematics are exact: there are 169 stanzas (132) and 2,197 lines (133). The Elizabethan sonnet sequence, Hollander implies, cannot simply be reproduced. Yet it cannot be ignored, and it is effectively redesigned here by a different consciousness.
Hollander is one of the masters of our time. When he is at his best, his technical skill and his intelligence are active in the service of subjects of the highest interest, and at every turn his work suggests ways in which the inherited tradition (not always it seems, pace Harold Bloom, felt as a burden) can continue to exert a liberating and creative influence.