Stumbling around the internet this morning I learned that John Hollander passed away a few weeks back
. If you’re not a poetry buff, you may not know him, but you really should be a poetry buff. What is wrong with you? You used to be such a intellectual. When is the last time you read something that didn’t have dragons or murders in it—though all the best poetry does, in some ways, John Hollander’s especially. Check him out
. Listen to the reading he did in 1969 above or from the DC library
. Use your brains sometimes why not?
I knew Mr. Hollander a little bit (not enough to call him John) because I took a class with him at a Fancy Writer’s Conference almost 10 years ago. He was an old man then, and very cranky, and very very scary smart. He made a young woman in his class (though not that young, she was an assistant professor somewhere) read one of her poems over and over until she stopped doing? That thing? Where you pause? At the end? Of every line? She cried. It was brutal, but, instructive.
A friend of mine was walking with him in the Tennessee summer heat to the dining hall in silence and, attempting to make small talk, mentioned that it was “Much hotter in the sun than it is in the shade…” Hollander squinted up at the object, grunted “You’re right,” and immediately crossed the street to walk under the trees. It was brutal, but, instructive.
Many poems of JH’s are good, from his incredibly long career, but he will be known mostly I believe for his instructions. His greatest poem will be remembered as his book length guide to prosody, in which he was probably the world’s foremost expert, Rhyme’s Reason. But see, he not only masterfully imitated the style in each section, he also managed to write about the sadness of being a late champion in a dying art, about the failures and successes of historical poets, and, in this section I’ve pasted below, how poetry techniques lend themselves to primal emotions, important things. Beautiful, but, instructive. Rest in peace.