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Famous Poet Friday ~ Howard Nemerov

Posted by Cutter on February 7, 2013 at 11:20 PM

Welcome once again to Cutter's Famous Poet Friday! This week I bring you the poetry of one of America's former poet laureates and an early influence on me, Howard Nemerov. When I was a young teenager, my parents and I on a trip to Skyline Drive in Virginia stopped at the Royal Oak Bookshop and I found a used copy of Nemerov's The Blue Swallows. I was put off at first by the starkness of his work until I realized how vividly he was painting with such simple phrasing and then I was hooked. Recently I have been digging more in to his work and my more mature eye loves it even more. Enjoy!

Life

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Born on February 29, 1920 in New York, New York, Howard Nemerov displayed an early interest in the arts, as did his younger sister, the photographer Diane Arbus. He graduated from the Society for Ethical Culture's Fieldstone School in 1937 and went on to study at Harvard, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1941.

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Throughout World War II, he served as a pilot in the Royal Canadian unit of the U. S. Army Air Force. 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.

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Nemerov was first hired to teach literature to World War II veterans at Hamilton College in New York. His teaching career flourished, and he went on to teach at Bennington College, Brandeis University, and Washington University in St. Louis, where he was Distinguished Poet in Residence from 1969 until his death.

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Bibliography

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His numerous collections of poetry include Trying Conclusions: New and Selected Poems, 1961-1991 (University of Chicago Press, 1991); War Stories: Poems About Long Ago and Now (1987); Inside the Onion (1984); Sentences (1980); The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (1977), which won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize; Gnomes and Occasions (1973); The Winter Lightning: Selected Poems 1968 The Blue Swallows (1967); Mirrors and Windows (1958 The Salt Garden (1955); Guide to the Ruins (1950); and The Image and the Law (1947).

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Awards & Death

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Nemerov was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including fellowships from The Academy of American Poets and The Guggenheim Foundation, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and the National Medal of the Arts. He also 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 as poet laureate of the United States from 1988 to 1990. Nemerov died of cancer in 1991 in University City, Missouri.

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I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee

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I tell you that I see her still

At the dark entrance of the hall.

One gas lamp burning near her shoulder

Shone also from her other side

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Where hung the long inaccurate glass

Whose pictures were as troubled water.

An immense shadow had its hand

Between us on the floor, and seemed

To hump the knuckles nervously,

A giant crab readying to walk,

Or a blanket moving in its sleep.

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You will remember, with a smile

Instructed by movies to reminisce,

How strict her corsets must have been,

How the huge arrangements of her hair

Would certainly betray the least

Impassionate displacement there.

It was no rig for dallying,

And maybe only marriage could

Derange that queenly scaffolding -

As when a great ship, coming home,

Coasts in the harbor, dropping sail

And loosing all the tackle that had laced

Her in the long lanes...

I know

We need not draw this figure out

But all that whalebone came for whales

And all the whales lived in the sea,

In calm beneath the troubled glass,

Until the needle drew their blood.

I see her standing in the hall,

Where the mirror's lashed to blood and foam,

And the black flukes of agony

Beat at the air till the light blows out.

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Found Poem

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after information received in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4 v 86

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The population center of the USA

Has shifted to Potosi, in Missouri.

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The calculation employed by authorities

In arriving at this dislocation assumes

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That the country is a geometric plane,

Perfectly flat, and that every citizen,

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Including those in Alaska and Hawaii

And the District of Columbia, weighs the same;

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So that, given these simple presuppositions,

The entire bulk and spread of all the people

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Should theoretically balance on the point

Of a needle under Potosi in Missouri

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Where no one is residing nowadays

But the watchman over an abandoned mine

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Whence the company got the lead out and left.

'It gets pretty lonely here,' he says, 'at night.'

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Amateurs of Heaven

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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

To circle the Pole in idiot majesty,

And wonder what was given them to wonder.

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Being amateurs, they knew some of the names

By rote, and could attach the names to stars

And draw the lines invisible between

That humbled all the heavenly things to farm

And forest things and even kitchen things,

A bear, a wagon, a long handled ladle;

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Could wonder at the shadow of the world

That brought those lights to light, could wonder too

At the ancestral eyes and the dark mind

Behind them that had reached the length of light

To name the stars and draw the animals

And other stuff that dangled in the height,

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Or was it the deep? Did they look in

Or out, the lovers? till they grew bored

As even lovers will, and got up to go,

But drunken now, with staggering and dizziness,

Because the spell of earth had moved them so,

Hallucinating that the heavens moved.

Categories: POET'S OPEN BLOG, CUTTER'S FAMOUS POET FRIDAY, Cutter

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9 Comments

Reply Tammy Hendrix
12:34 AM on February 8, 2013 
A very accomplished man. Amateurs of Heaven is my favorite. I feel very connected to it . I am now missing my field.

I am so happy to see your weekly poetry lessons return.
Reply dracokitten
4:25 PM on February 8, 2013 
A wonderful pick as usual.
Reply Wordmachinist
7:55 PM on February 13, 2013 
Awesome! Thanks for your continuing this venture.
Reply MoonCookee
4:32 PM on February 14, 2013 
Once again dear Brother you have given lessons to me and I am better and bigger. I love the clean lines and the throwback language. This feature is always a great adventure for me brother. Thank you. I would ask perhaps that we see an installment here for our new Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway or ya know who it's hard to find solid stuff on for being so famous..Ted Hughes. I would love to see you do a feature on just "Prufrock" and then another on Elliot another time. I love you Brother thank you.
Reply Missy (AKA MRS. Wordmachinist)
1:02 PM on February 15, 2013 
I LOVE the knowledge that you bring to me with this...I look forward to it every week. :D
Reply Cutter
2:55 PM on February 15, 2013 
Tammy Hendrix says...
A very accomplished man. Amateurs of Heaven is my favorite. I feel very connected to it . I am now missing my field.

I am so happy to see your weekly poetry lessons return.


Amateurs of Heaven is one of those rare, magical poems that touches people in different ways depending when in life they read it, I am glad you enjoyed it and that you are enjoying the return of the feature! Thank you for supporting it!
Reply Cutter
2:56 PM on February 15, 2013 
dracokitten says...
A wonderful pick as usual.


Thank you DracoKitten! I am honored that you stopped by!
Reply Cutter
2:57 PM on February 15, 2013 
Wordmachinist says...
Awesome! Thanks for your continuing this venture.


Thank you Jimmy! I love doing it and it lets me dig back in to my head and shelves to see what I can dig up! Thank you for supplying a wall on which to share!
Reply Cutter
2:58 PM on February 15, 2013 
MoonCookee says...
Once again dear Brother you have given lessons to me and I am better and bigger. I love the clean lines and the throwback language. This feature is always a great adventure for me brother. Thank you. I would ask perhaps that we see an installment here for our new Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway or ya know who it's hard to find solid stuff on for being so famous..Ted Hughes. I would love to see you do a feature on just "Prufrock" and then another on Elliot another time. I love you Brother thank you.


Brother, my brother! Thank you for your kind words and for your requests! You got it, I will get to these as soon as possible, perhaps one even next week! I love you! Thank you for supporting this adventure of mine!