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Howard Nemerov

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Title: Howard Nemerov  
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Subject: Mona Van Duyn, United States Poet Laureate, William Morris Meredith, Jr., Louise Glück, Richard Wilbur
Collection: 1920 Births, 1991 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Poets, American Poets Laureate, Bollingen Prize Recipients, Cancer Deaths in Missouri, Ethical Culture Fieldston School Alumni, Formalist Poets, Guggenheim Fellows, Harvard University Alumni, Jewish American Poets, National Book Award Winners, People from New York City, People from St. Louis County, Missouri, Poets from Missouri, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry Winners, United States National Medal of Arts Recipients, Washington University in St. Louis Faculty
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Howard Nemerov

Howard Nemerov
Born (1920-02-29)February 29, 1920
New York City, New York, USA
Died July 5, 1991(1991-07-05) (aged 71)
University City, Missouri, USA
Occupation Poet
Nationality United States
Alma mater Harvard College
Notable awards

National Book Award

Pulitzer Prize

Howard Nemerov (February 29, 1920 – July 5, 1991) was an American poet. He was twice Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, from 1963 to 1964 and again from 1988 to 1990.[1] For The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (1977), he won the National Book Award for Poetry,[2] Pulitzer Prize for Poetry,[3] and Bollingen Prize.

Nemerov was brother to photographer Diane Nemerov Arbus and father to art historian Alexander Nemerov, Professor of the History of Art and American Studies at Stanford University.


  • Biography 1
  • Poetry 2
  • Bibliography 3
    • Poetry collections 3.1
    • Prose 3.2
    • Literary Scholarship 3.3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Born on Leap Day in New York City, his parents were David Nemerov and Gertrude. The Nemerovs were a Russian Jewish couple who lived in New York City and owned Russek's, a famous Fifth Avenue department store. His younger sister was the photographer Diane Arbus. The elder Nemerov's talents and interests extended to art connoisseurship, painting, philanthropy, and photography — talents and interests undoubtedly influential upon his son. Young Howard was raised in a sophisticated New York City environment where he attended the Society for Ethical Culture's Fieldston School. Graduated in 1937 as an outstanding student and second string team football fullback, he commenced studies at Harvard University where, in 1940, he was Bowdoin Essayist and he received bachelor's degree at this university. Throughout World War II, he served as a pilot, first in the Royal Canadian Air Force and later the U. S. Army Air Forces. 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.

Nemerov then began teaching, first at Hamilton College and later at Bennington College, Brandeis University, and finally Washington University in St. Louis, where he was Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor of English and Distinguished Poet in Residence from 1969 until his death in 1991. In 1999, Washington University dedicated a dormitory, The Howard Nemerov House, to him.[4] Nemerov's numerous collections of poetry include Trying Conclusions: New and Selected Poems, 1961-1991 (University of Chicago Press, 1991); The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (1977), which won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize; The Winter Lightning: Selected Poems (1968); Mirrors and Windows (1958); The Salt Garden (1955); and The Image of the Law (1947). His novels have also been commended; they include The Homecoming Game (1957), Federigo: Or the Power of Love (1954), and The Melodramatists (1949).

Nemerov received many awards and honors, among them fellowships from The Academy of American Poets and The Guggenheim Foundation, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the National Medal of Arts, the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, and the first Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry.[5]

Nemerov 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 two terms as poet laureate of the United States from 1988 to 1990. In 1990 he was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[6] Nemerov died of cancer in 1991 in University City, Missouri. The Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award was instituted in 1994 to honor him, and by 2008 about 3000 sonnets were entered annually in the associated competition.[7]


Nemerov's work is formalist. He wrote almost exclusively in fixed forms and meter. While he is known for his meticulousness and refined technique, his work also has a reputation for being witty and playful. He is compared to John Hollander and Philip Larkin.

"A Primer of the Daily Round" is his most frequently anthologized poem, and highly representative of Nemerov's poetic style. It is an archetypal Elizabethan sonnet, demonstrative of the prosodic creativity for which Nemerov is famous. Another widely appreciated poem is "The War in the Air," which draws on his wartime experience as a pilot.[8]

Nemerov's "Because You Asked about the Line between Prose and Poetry" is frequently taught as an example of an Ars Poetica as it describes the nearly imperceptible change between rain and snow while still maintaining the formal poetic elements of rhyme and meter. A critical review by Mary Kinzie said of it: "the poem imperceptibly thickens itself out of the stream of prose."[9]


Poetry collections

  • The Image of the Law (1947)
  • Guide to the Ruins (1950)
  • The Vacuum (1955)
  • The Salt Garden (1955)
  • Mirrors and Windows (1958)
  • The Next Room of The Dream: Poems and Two Plays (1962)
  • The Blue Swallows (1967)
  • The Winter Lightning: Selected Poems (1968)
  • Gnomes & Occasions: Poems (1973) University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-57252-8
  • The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (1977) ISBN 978-0-226-57259-8 —winner of the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, and Bollingen Prize
  • Sentences (1980) ISBN 978-0-226-57262-8
  • Inside the Onion (1984) ISBN 0-226-57244-7
  • War Stories: Poems about Long Ago and Now (1987) ISBN 978-0-226-57243-7
  • Trying Conclusions: New and Selected Poems, 1961-1991 (1992) ISBN 978-0-226-57263-5
  • Grace to be Said at the Supermarket
  • The War in the Air



  • The Melodramatists (1949)
  • Federigo: Or the Power of Love (1954)
  • The Homecoming Game (1957)
  • The Commodity of Dreams and Other Stories (1959)
  • Journal of the Fictive Life (1965) ISBN 978-0-226-57261-1
  • Stories, Fables and Other Diversions (1971)

Literary Scholarship

  • The Oak in the Acorn: On Remembrance of Things Past and on Teaching Proust, Who Will Never Learn (1987) ISBN 978-0-8071-1385-1


  1. ^
  2. ^ "National Book Awards – 1978". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-04-07.
    (With acceptance speech by Nemerov and essay by Ross Gay from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  3. ^ "Poetry". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-04-07.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "'The War in the Air' By Howard Nemerov". Poetry Foundation.
  9. ^

External links

  • Academy of American Poets - Biographical Sketch and Links to Poetry
  • Poet Laureate Timeline: 1961-1970
  • Poetry Foundation - Biography and Links to Poetry
  • The Howard Nemerov Papers at Washington University in St. Louis
  • St. Louis Walk of Fame
  • Howard Nemerov "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Skylark" The Baltimore Museum of Art: Baltimore, Maryland, 1964 Accessed June 26, 2012
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