Trying Conclusions: New and Selected Poems, 1961-1991, by Howard Nemerov; A Howard Nemerov Reader
During a 50-year career, Howard Nemerov, who died this past July, became one of the most widely honored poets in America. His Collected Poems (1977) received the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Later volumes won the Bollingen Prize and a National Medal for the Arts in Poetry. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Academy of American Poets, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For a year he was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, and for two more years he was the nation’s Poet Laureate. Nemerov’s career was proof (if proof were needed) of the deference shown to poetry by the culture at large. His career is also a reminder, however, of the way in which such public recognition has all but replaced the actual reading of poetry. It suggests that the prizes and academies and laureateships—an institutionalized belief in poetry—may stand only as monuments to the passing of an art.
If so, Nemerov may also turn out to have been a prophet of its decline. The progress of all human experience, he implies in many of his poems, is from exploration and delight in the conditions of sheer activity to a hemmed-in, by-the-clock, practical concern. A fighter pilot in World War II, he saw this progress of experience in the history of human flight:
About the Author
D.G. Myers, literary historian at the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at Ohio State University, writes our fiction chronicle and is the author of the Literary Commentary blog.