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HOLLANDER, JOHN (1929- ) John Hollander is often referred to as a difficult poet whose work is packed with allusions. His poems display a remarkable knowledge of prosody (see prosody and free verse). In his wit, inventiveness, and capability with a range of complex verse forms, Hollander's poetic practice shows the influence of W H. auden. He is often linked to formalist poets who were his contemporaries, such as Anthony hecht and James Merrill, and his interest in poets from the 17th century—he edited the Selected Poems of Ben Johnson (1961)—clearly informs his writing.
Hollander was born in New York City. After receiving his A.B. and M.A. from Columbia University, he earned a Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1959. Auden chose Hollander's first book, A Crackling of Thorns, for the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1958. Hollander won Poetry magazine's Levinson Prize in 1974 and the Bollingen Prize in 1983. He has received many other honors, including a fellowship in 1990 from the MacArthur Foundation.
Hollander's poems employ a voice that is philosophical and reflective, often engaging paradoxical themes. In "The Great Bear" (1958), for example, he considers his inability to see a bear in the constellation Ursa Major as a sign that the universe has no meaning, concluding, "If it were best, / Even, to have it there . . . there still would be no bear." Visions from the Ramble (1965) describes the speaker's childhood and the present, in what Richard HOWARD considers a key theme in Hollander's work, "a contradiction between remembering and forgetting . . . between, in its largest accommodation, life and death which affords only in the poem a moment of release" (241). The poems, however personal, never seem confessional; the craft is more important than being self-revealing or shocking.
The commitment to the poem itself, often evident in a precision of form, has always been crucial to Hollander's work. His knowledge of prosody is evident in Rhyme's Reason (1981), his primer on poetic forms, and his concern with the look of a poem on the page appears in Types of Shape (1969), in which the poems embody the objects they describe, such as a lightbulb or a cat (see visual poetry).
Hollander's carefully written, thoughtful verse deals with everyday events through a range of allusions and difficult formal techniques. In his work the craft of the poem highlights the poem and hides the poet.
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