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Two-time Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress, from 1963 to 1964 and from 1988 to 1990, Howard Nemerov was born in New York on this date in 1920. He was a formalist, often writing in meter and in classical forms (a prize for sonnets is named for Nemerov; it attracts some 3,000 entries each year). Joyce Carol Oates called him a “romantic, realist, comedian, satirist, relentless and indefatigable brooder upon the most ancient mysteries,” and Nemerov himself described his work as an “ever-present dispute between two ways of looking at the world,” the “poetry of the eye” and the “poetry of the mind.” A Harvard graduate, Nemerov served as a pilot in World War II and became a distinguished professor at Washington University in St. Louis in 1960, where he taught for twenty-one years. He published both poetry and fiction, and won the National Book Award for Poetry, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and Yale University’s Bollingen Prize, all for his 1977 volume, The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov. He died at 71 in 1991. To hear him reading his poem, “Thanksgrieving,” look below.
“Write what you know. This should leave you with a lot of free time.” —Howard Nemerov