Biography of Howard Nemerov
Howard Nemerov was an American poet. He was twice appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1963 to 1964, and again from 1988 to 1990. He received the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and Bollingen Prize for The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov. He was brother to photographer Diane Nemerov Arbus and father to art historian Alexander Nemerov, Professor of the History of Art and American Studies at Yale University.
Born on leap day in New York City, his parents were David Nemerov and Gertrude. His younger sister was the photographer Diane Arbus. The elder Nemerov's talents and interests extended to art connoisseurship, painting, philanthropy, and photography — talents and interests undoubtedly influential upon his son. Young Howard was raised in a sophisticated New York City environment where he attended the Society for Ethical Culture's Fieldston School. Graduated in 1937 as an outstanding student and second string team football fullback, he commenced studies at Harvard University where, in 1940, he was Bowdoin Essayist and he received bachelor's degree at this university. Throughout World War II, he served as a pilot, first in the Royal Canadian Air Force and later the U. S. Army Air Forces. He married in 1944, and after the war, having earned the rank of first lieutenant, returned to New York with his wife to complete his first book.
Nemerov then began teaching, first at Hamilton College and later at Bennington College, Brandeis University, and finally Washington University in St. Louis, where he was Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor of English and Distinguished Poet in Residence from 1969 until his death in 1991. Nemerov's numerous collections of poetry include Trying Conclusions: New and Selected Poems, 1961-1991 (University of Chicago Press, 1991); The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (1977), which won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize; The Winter Lightning: Selected Poems (1968); Mirrors and Windows (1958); The Salt Garden (1955); and The Image of the Law (1947). His novels have also been commended; they include The Homecoming Game (1957), Federigo: Or the Power of Love (1954), and The Melodramatists (1949).
Nemerov received many awards and honors, among them fellowships from The Academy of American Poets and The Guggenheim Foundation, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the National Medal of Arts, the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, and the first Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry.
Nemerov served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1963 and 1964, as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets beginning in 1976, and two terms as poet laureate of the United States from 1988 to 1990. In 1990 he was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Nemerov died of cancer in 1991 in University City, Missouri. The Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award was instituted in 1994 to honor him, and by 2008 about 3000 sonnets were entered annually in the associated competition.
Nemerov's work is formalist. He has written almost exclusively in fixed forms and meter. While he is known for his meticulousness and refined technique, his work also has a reputation for being witty and playful. He is compared to John Hollander and Philip Larkin.
"A Primer of the Daily Round" is his most frequently anthologized poem, and highly representative of Nemerov's poetic style. It is an archetypal Elizabethan sonnet, demonstrative of the prosodic creativity for which Nemerov is famous. Another widely appreciated poem is "The War in the Air," which draws on his wartime experience as a pilot.
Howard Nemerov's Works:
The Image of the Law (1947)
The Vacuum (1955)
The Salt Garden (1955)
Mirrors and Windows (1958)
The Next Room of The Dream: Poems and Two Plays (1962)
The Blue Swallows (1967)
The Winter Lightning: Selected Poems (1968)
Gnomes & Occasions: Poems (1973) University of Chicago Press
The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (1977)
Inside the Onion (1984)
War Stories: Poems about Long Ago and Now (1987)
Trying Conclusions: New and Selected Poems, 1961-1991 (1992)
Grace to be Said at the Supermarket
The Melodramatists (1949)
Federigo: Or the Power of Love (1954)
The Homecoming Game (1957)
Journal of the Fictive Life (1965)
The Oak in the Acorn: On Remembrance of Things Past and on Teaching Proust, Who Will Never Learn (1987)
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Howard Nemerov Poems
September, The First Day Of School
I My child and I hold hands on the way to school, And when I leave him at the first-grade door
Because You Asked About The Line Between...
Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle That while you watched turned into pieces of snow Riding a gradient invisible From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.
Innocence? In a sense. In no sense!
People are putting up storm windows now, Or were, this morning, until the heavy rain Drove them indoors. So, coming home at noon, I saw storm windows lying on the ground,
A Spell before Winter
After the red leaf and the gold have gone, Brought down by the wind, then by hammering rain Bruised and discolored, when October's flame Goes blue to guttering in the cusp, this land
Learning by Doing
They're taking down a tree at the front door, The power saw is snarling at some nerves, Whining at others. Now and then it grunts, And sawdust falls like snow or a drift of seeds.
Walking the Dog
Two universes mosey down the street Connected by love and a leash and nothing else. Mostly I look at lamplight through the leaves While he mooches along with tail up and snout down,
Some nights it's bound to be your best way out, When nightmare is the short end of the stick, When sleep is a part of town where it's not safe To walk at night, when waking is the only way
The Blue Swallows
Across the millstream below the bridge Seven blue swallows divide the air In shapes invisible and evanescent, Kaleidoscopic beyond the mind’s
Learning the Trees
Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn The language of the trees. That's done indoors, Out of a book, which now you think of it Is one of the transformations of a tree.
The Goose Fish
On the long shore, lit by the moon To show them properly alone, Two lovers suddenly embraced So that their shadows were as one.
Amateurs of Heaven
Two lovers to a midnight meadow came High in the hills, to lie there hand and hand Like effigies and look up at the stars, The never-setting ones set in the North
You see them vanish in their speeding cars, The many people hastening through the world, And wonder what they would have done before This time of time speed distance, random streams
This admirable gadget, when it is Wound on a string and spun with steady force, Maintains its balance on most any smooth Surface, pleasantly humming as it goes.
Some nights it's bound to be your best way out,
When nightmare is the short end of the stick,
When sleep is a part of town where it's not safe
To walk at night, when waking is the only way
You have of distancing your wretched dead,
A growing crowd, and escaping out of their
Time into yours for another little while;
Then pass ghostly, a planet in the house