The current poet laureate of Connecticut
John Hollander was born in New York City on October 28, 1929. He attended Columbia and Indiana Universities and was a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows of Harvard University.
He is the author of more than a dozen volumes of poetry, including Picture Window (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), Figurehead: And Other Poems (1999), Tesserae (1993), Selected Poetry (1993), Harp Lake (1988), Powers of Thirteen (1983), Spectral Emanations (1978), Types of Shape (1969), and A Crackling of Thorns (1958), which was chosen by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets.
His seven books of criticism include: The Work of Poetry (1997), Melodious Guile (1988), The Figure of Echo (1981), Rhyme's Reason (1981), Vision and Resonance (1975), Images of Voice (1970), and The Untuning of the Sky (1961).
He has edited numerous books, among them Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize (The Academy of American Poets and Books & Co./Turtle Point Press, 1996); The Gazer's Spirit (1995); Poems Bewitched and Haunted (2005); Animal Poems (1994); The Library of America's two-volume anthology Nineteenth Century American Poetry (1993); The Essential Rossetti (1990); Poems of Our Moment (1968); Selected Poems of Ben Jonson (1961); and The Wind and the Rain: An Anthology of Poems for Young People (with Harold Bloom, 1961). He was co-editor of The Oxford Anthology of English Literature (1973) and Jiggery-Pokery: A Compendium of Double Dactyls (with Anthony Hecht, 1967).
He has also written books for children and has collaborated on operatic and lyric works with such composers as Milton Babbitt, George Perle, and Hugo Weisgall.
About his early work, the critic Harold Bloom said, "Hollander's expressive range and direct emotional power attain triumphant expression. I am moved to claim for these poems a vital place in that new Expressionistic mode that begins to sound like the poetry of the Seventies that matters, and that will survive us."
Hollander's many honors include the Bollingen Prize, the Levinson Prize, and the MLA Shaughnessy Medal, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the current poet laureate of Connecticut, he has taught at Connecticut College, Hunter College, the CUNY Graduate Center, and Yale, where is currently the Sterling Professor emeritus of English.
The Ninth of July
by John Hollander
In 1939 the skylark had nothing to say to me
As the June sunset splashed rose light on the broad sidewalks
And prophesied no war after the end of that August;
Only, midway between playing ball in Manhattan and Poland
I turned in my sleep on Long Island, groped in the dark of July,
And found my pillow at last down at the foot of my bed.
Through the window near her bed, brakes gasped on Avenue B
In 1952; her blonde crotch shadowed and silent
Lay half-covered by light, while the iced tea grew warm,
Till the last hollow crust of icecuhe cracked to its death in the glass.
The tea was hot on the cold hilltop in the moonlight
While a buck thrashed through the gray ghosts of burnt-out trees
And Thomas whispered of the S.S. from inside his sleeping-bag.
Someone else told a tale of the man who was cured of a hurt by the bears.
The bathtub drain in the Old Elberon house gucked and snorted
When the shadows of graying maples fell across the lawn:
The brown teddybear was a mild comfort because of his silence,
And I gazed at the porthole ring made by the windowshade
String, hanging silently, seeing a head and shoulders emerge
From the burning Morro Castle I’d seen that afternoon.
The rock cried out “I’m burning, too” as the drying heat
Entered its phase of noon over the steep concrete
Walls along Denver’s excuse for a river: we read of remote
Bermudas, and gleaming Neal spat out over the parapet.
In the evening in Deal my b.b. rifle shattered a milkbottle
While the rhododendrons burned in the fading light. The tiny
Shot-sized hole in the bathhouse revealed the identical twats
Of the twins from over the hill. From over the hill on the other
Side of the lake a dark cloud turretted over the sunset;
Another lake sank to darkness on the other side of the hill,
Lake echoing lake in diminishing pools of reflection.
A trumpet blew Taps. While the drummer’s foot boomed on the grandstand
The furriers’ wives by the pool seemed to ignore the accordion
Playing “Long Ago and Far Away.” None of the alewives
Rose to our nightcrawlers, wiggling on the other side of the mirror.
She was furrier under the darkness of all the blanketing heat
Than I’d thought to find her, and the bathroom mirror flashed
White with the gleam of a car on seventy-second street.
We lay there just having died; the two of us, vision and flesh,
Contraction and dream, came apart, while the fan on the windowsill
Blew a thin breeze of self between maker and muse, dividing
Fusing of firework, love’s old explosion and outburst of voice.
This is the time most real: for unreeling time there are no
Moments, there are no points, but only the lines of memory
Streaking across the black film of the mind’s night.
But here in the darkness between two great explosions of light,
Midway between the fourth of July and the fourteenth,
Suspended somewhere in summer between the ceremonies
Remembered from childhood and the historical conflagrations
Imagined in sad, learned youth—somewhere there always hangs
The American moment.
Burning, restless, between the deed
And the dream is the life remembered: the sparks of Concord were mine
As I lit a cherry-bomb once in a glow of myth
And hurled it over the hedge. The complexities of the Terror
Were mine as my poring eyes got burned in the fury of Europe
Discovered in nineteen forty-two. On the ninth of July
I have been most alive; world and I, in making each other
As always, make fewer mistakes.
The gibbous, historical moon
Records our nights with an eye neither narrowed against the brightness
Of nature, nor widened with awe at the clouds of the life of the mind.
Crescent and full, knowledge and touch commingled here
On this dark bed, window flung wide to the cry of the city night,
We lie still, making the poem of the world that emerges from shadows.
Doing and then having done is having ruled and commanded
A world, a self, a poem, a heartbeat in the moonlight.
To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.
“What’s the French for fiddle-de-dee?” “Fiddle-de-dee’s not English,” Alice replied gravely. “Whoever said it was,” said the Red queen ...
by John Hollander
What’s the French for “fiddle-de-dee”?
But “fiddle-de-dee’s not English” (we
Learn from Alice, and must agree).
The “Fiddle” we know, but what’s from “Dee”?
Le chat assis in an English tree?
—Well, what’s the French for “fiddle-de-dench”?
(That is to say, for “monkey wrench”)
—Once in the works, it produced a stench
What’s the Greek for “fiddle-de-dex”?
(That is to say, for “Brekekekex”)
—The frog-prince turned out to be great at sex.
What’s the Erse for “fiddle-de-derse”?
(That is to say, for “violent curse”?)
—Bad cess to you for your English verse!
What’s the Malay for “fiddle-de-day”?
(That is to say, for “That is to say ...”)
—...[There are no true synonyms, anyway ...]
What’s the Pali for “fiddle-de-dally”?
(That is to say, for “Silicon Valley”)
—Maya deceives you: the Nasdaq won’t rally.
What’s the Norwegian for “fiddle-de-degian”?
(That is to say, for “His name is Legion”)
—This aquavit’s known in every region.
What’s the Punjabi for “fiddle-de-dabi”?
(That is to say, for “crucifer lobby”)
—They asked for dall but were sent kohl-rabi.
What’s the Dutch for “fiddle-de-Dutch”?
(That is to say, for “overmuch”)
—Pea-soup and burghers and tulips and such.
What’s the Farsi for “fiddle-de-darsi?”
(That is to say for “devote yourself”—“darsi”
In Italian—the Irish would spell it “D’Arcy”)
Well, what’s the Italian for “fiddle-de-dallion”?
(That is to say, for “spotted stallion”)
—It makes him more randy to munch on a scallion.
Having made so free with “fiddle-de-dee,”
What’s to become now of “fiddle-de-dum”?
—I think I know. But the word’s still mum.
The Night Mirror
by John Hollander
What it showed was always the same—
A vertical panel with him in it,
Being a horrible bit of movement
At the edge of knowledge, overhanging
The canyons of nightmare. And when the last
Glimpse was enough—his grandmother,
Say, with a blood-red face, rising
From her Windsor chair in the warm lamplight
To tell him something—he would scramble up,
Waiting to hear himself shrieking, and gain
The ledge of the world, his bed, lit by
The pale rectangle of window, eclipsed
By a dark shape, but a shape that moved
And saw and knew and mistook its reflection
In the tall panel on the closet door
For itself. The silver corona of moonlight
That gloried his glimpsed head was enough
To send him back into silences (choosing
Fear in those chasms below), to reject
Freedom of wakeful seeing, believing
And feeling, for peace and the bondage of horrors
Welling up only from deep within
That dark planet head, spinning beyond
The rim of the night mirror’s range, huge
And cold, on the pillow’s dark side.
And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field ... GEN. 2:20
by John Hollander
Thou, paw-paw-paw; thou, glurd; thou, spotted
Glurd; thou, whitestap, lurching through
The high-grown brush; thou, pliant-footed,
Implex; thou, awagabu.
Every burrower, each flier
Came for the name he had to give:
Gay, first work, ever to be prior,
Not yet sunk to primitive.
Thou, verdle; thou, McFleery’s pomma;
Thou; thou; thou—three types of grawl;
Thou, flisket; thou, kabasch; thou, comma-
Eared mashawk; thou, all; thou, all.
Were, in a fire of becoming,
Laboring to be burned away,
Then work, half-measuring, half-humming,
Would be as serious as play.
Thou, pambler; thou, rivarn; thou, greater
Wherret, and thou, lesser one;
Thou, sproal; thou, zant; thou, lily-eater.
Naming’s over. Day is done.