May 27, 2008
Born in 1929 in New York, educated at Columbia, John Hollander is a poet and literary critic. He has written more than a dozen books of poetry, and seven books of criticism, including Rhyme's Reason of which Harold Bloom said: "[it is] on all questions of schemes, patterns, forms, meters, rhymes of poetry in English, the indispensible authority..." and why I was so keen to interview him. According to New York Times, Hollander stresses the importance of hearing poems out loud: "A good poem satisfies the ear. It creates a story or picture that grabs you, informs you and entertains you."
His honors include the Bollingen Prize, the Levinson Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets he is the current poet laureate of Connecticut, and has taught at many different universities, including Yale.
We met recently at the Philadelphia Book Festival. I spend most of this interview relentlessly and unsuccessfully trying to badger him into identifying, comparing and describing the differences between great and bad poems. To name names. We do get to some of the great (Rosanna Warren, Shakespeare, Browning, Swinburne, Rossetti, for example) but he will not go anywhere near the bad. Toward the end, clearly tired from the day's activities and my uncalled for bullying, he reads a beautifully funny and thoughtful poem, based on a quote taken from Boswell's Life of Johnson, found in his collection, A draft of Light.