Friday, 30 August 2013


My obituary of the American poet John Hollander is up at the Guardian online; you can link to it here. Sadly, it appears to have gone up just before Seamus Heaney's death, and being in New Zealand half a day ahead of London, I have no idea of whether it appeared in the paper paper, though I'd imagine Heaney would have preceded it if it wasn't in the Thursday edition. It's a nice synchronicity to see them side by side online; Heaney lacked nothing in working with form, but presented far more emotional dynamism driving his poetry.

It's an interesting photo the Guardian found, one that plays far more to the early part of Hollander's career, a very much New York city, Columbia College kind of shot. Later pictures, such as the one above, were much more the professor of poetry, New England tweedy kind of shots which are more standard these days.

I read a bit of Hollander when I was younger; he was on the advisory board of Wesleyan University Press, as I remember, and at least one of his books was published there, which is how I first encountered his work. His work was far more cerebral than, say, Richard Wilbur's, and Wilbur was the formalist I most admired (not least because I had two classes with him). Sometimes I had the sense of his working out poetry as a puzzle. I should have mentioned that his prose was exceptionally lucid; he was a fine critic.

I was trying to think of a British equivalent of Hollander when I wrote the obit; Geoffrey Hill was the closest I could come, for the formal rigor, the intellectual difficulty, and sometimes the religious overtones, but in the end I didn't think it close enough to mention, except here.

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