Biography of Karl Shapiro
Karl Shapiro attended the University of Virginia before World War II, and immortalized it in a scathing poem called "University," which noted that "to hate the Negro and avoid the Jew is the curriculum." He did not return after his military service.
Karl Shapiro wrote poetry in the Pacific Theater while he served there during World War II. His collection V-Letter and Other Poems, written while Shapiro was stationed in New Guinea, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1945, while Shapiro was still in the military. Shapiro was American Poet Laureate in 1946 and 1947. (At the time this title was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress which was changed by Congress in 1985 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.)
Poems from his earlier books display a mastery of formal verse with a modern sensibility that viewed such topics as automobiles, house flies, and drug stores as worthy of attention. Later work experimented with more open forms, beginning with The Bourgeois Poet (1964) and continuing with White-Haired Lover (1968). The influence of Walt Whitman, D. H. Lawrence, W. H. Auden and William Carlos Williams is evident in his work.
Shapiro's interest in formal verse and prosody led to his writing a long poem about the subjects, Essay on Rime (1945); A Bibliography of Modern Prosody (1948); and, with Robert Beum, A Prosody Handbook (1965; reissued 2006).
Selected Poems appeared in 1968, and Shapiro published one novel, Edsel (1971) and a three-part autobiography, "Poet" (1988-1990).
Shapiro edited the prestigious magazine, Poetry (see Poetry Magazine) for several years, and he was a professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where he edited Prairie Schooner, and at the University of California, Davis, from which he retired in the mid-1980s.
His other works include Person, Place and Thing (1942), (with Ernst Lert) the libretto to Hugo Weisgall's opera The Tenor (1950), To Abolish Children (1968), and The Old Horsefly (1993). Shapiro received the 1969 Bollingen Prize for Poetry, sharing the award that year with John Berryman.
He died in New York City, aged 86, on May 14, 2000.
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Karl Shapiro Poems
The beauty of manhole covers--what of that? Like medals struck by a great savage khan, Like Mayan calendar stones, unliftable, indecipherable, Not like the old electrum, chased and scored,
It is winter in California, and outside Is like the interior of a florist shop: A chilled and moisture-laden crop Of pink camellias lines the path; and what
A Garden In Chicago
In the mid-city, under an oiled sky, I lay in a garden of such dusky green It seemed the dregs of the imagination. Hedged round by elegant spears of iron fence
The Olive Tree
Save for a lusterless honing-stone of moon The sky stretches its flawless canopy Blue as the blue silk of the Jewish flag Over the valley and out to sea.
Going To School
What shall I teach in the vivid afternoon With the sun warming the blackboard and a slip Of cloud catching my eye?
As a sloop with a sweep of immaculate wing on her delicate spine And a keel as steel as a root that holds in the sea as she leans,
The Conscientious Objector
The gates clanged and they walked you into jail More tense than felons but relieved to find The hostile world shut out, the flags that dripped
O hideous little bat, the size of snot, With polyhedral eye and shabby clothes, To populate the stinking cat you walk
Sunday: New Guinea
The bugle sounds the measured call to prayers, The band starts bravely with a clarion hymn, From every side, singly, in groups, in pairs,
It stops the town we come through. Workers raise Their oily arms in good salute and grin. Kids scream as at a circus. Business men
The Piano Tuner’s Wife
That note comes clear, like water running clear, Then the next higher note, and up and up And more and more, with now and then a chord,
To hurt the Negro and avoid the Jew Is the curriculum. In mid-September The entering boys, identified by hats,
The letters of the Jews as strict as flames Or little terrible flowers lean Stubbornly upwards through the perfect ages,
The Dome Of Sunday
With focus sharp as Flemish-painted face In film of varnish brightly fixed And through a polished hand-lens deeply seen,
Your landscape sickens with a dry disease
Even in May, Virginia, and your sweet pines
Like Frenchmen runted in a hundred wars
Are of a child’s height in these battlefields.
For Wilson sowed his teeth where generals prayed
—High-sounding Lafayette and sick-eyed Lee—
The loud Elizabethan crashed your swamps
Like elephants and the subtle Indian fell.