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© 2013 Grace Cavalieri

Howard Nemerov

Howard and Grace

THE POET AND THE POEM
Recorded at the Library of Congress with Howard Nemerov, the third Poet Laureate of the U.S. October 1988

A CONVERSATION WITH HOWARD NEMEROV
Howard Nemerov (1920 - 1991)

Grace:
Howard Nemerov was the third Poet Laureate of the United States. At the time of this interview he was working on his 14th volume of poetry. He is the author of three novels, two collections of short stories and has received every top award including the Pulitzer in' 78. At the time of his death he was the Distinguished University Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis. This interview took place the day of Mr. Nemerov's inauguration as Laureate. It was broadcast nationwide on satellite to public radio stations.

Grace:
I see you have a new manuscript in your hands. Do you like these new poems?

Howard: I like all my children, even the squat and ugly ones.

Grace:
I am impressed because you always seem to remember all the poems you've ever written.

Howard:
Well, I remember that I've written them but I've never memorized many of them.

Grace:
This is the year of a presidential election so let's talk about whether history can tell us where we're going in our poetry. And can we read a poem and tell where we're headed?

Howard:
Can't be done. History is one of those marvelous and necessary illusions we have to deal with. It's one of the ways of dealing with our world with impossible generalities which we couldn't live without.

Grace:
And the fact that it's sequential, and chronicles things far different from the way the poet views the world.

Howard:
Yes, and a chronicle is very different from history proper. The historian is terribly responsible to what he can discern are the facts of the case but he's nothing if he doesn't make out a case.

Grace:
As to the moral awareness of our times, is the poet better equipped than the historian to handle the meanings of great events

Howard:
Well we wouldn't want to do without either

Grace:
Looking at your new manuscript, I see some poems are very short in length. And in the past you've written four poems. Are these thoughts which jell into a poem

Howard:
Well once in awhile you have a thought and you rhyme it but mostly the thought and the verse come inseparably one from the there. In my poem POETICS, it's as close as I come to telling how I do it

Grace:
That poem is a good description of your process . . . a story . . . a disappointment . . . a joke

Howard:
I sometimes talk about the making of a poem within the poem. When Robert Frost was alive I was known as the other new England poet which is to be barely known at all and after Robert and I became friends, and after he died, I wrote a poem about a couple of maple trees I'd walked under every Autumn. They come in the last line. And Robert had always said you mustn't think of the last line first or it's only a fake poem and not a real one and while I'm inclined to agree I make my own exceptions. I've thought of the last line of some poems for years and tried them out and it wouldn't work because the last line was much too beautiful for the poem and the poem never arrived at it properly but finally I think I got it in the poem FOR ROBERT FROST, IN THE AUTUMN, IN VERMONT "now on your turning page/ The lines blaze with a constant light, displayed/ As in the maple's cold and fiery shade."

Grace:
That's in your collected poems

Howard:
Yes somewhere late. I can't remember which book it was

Grace:
As you continue to write, are you grappling with the same concepts as always. I know you've taken on every subject from football to cars, Everything that happens in daily life is in your poetry. And in your plays we get a strong premise of good and evil. You deal with every human element. In your 14th volume of poetry, are you considering new ideas about good and evil

Howard:
I think there's one thing which distinguishes our art is that we don't consider. We don't think. We write a little verse because it comes to us, and no doubt when we're long gone and out of range people will show that it was our autobiography the whole time and that it was consistent and thematic, and its attitudes can be traced from poem to poem but that doesn't bother us. We hope every one is new. At the same time Shakespeare tells the same stories over and over in so many guises that it takes a long time before you notice

Grace:
We'll leave it to the scholars to say whether you're always writing the same poem and when you're doing it differently

Howard:
You'd like for it to be both of course. In my WAR STORIES I tell a little about how I do it except that they're about piloting and poetry. And a lot happens by accident in poetry as you know

Grace:
You have said that the verse and the idea are inseparable so you think in rhythmic tones, perhaps even in meter at this point

Howard:
Well I would talk in iambic pentameter if it were easier

Grace:
There is a spiritual knowledge in your work, and there is the analytical part of you. How do they divvy up. What is the proportion of the technical and the intellectual to the other

Howard:
I'd be the last person to know or to be trusted on the answer. The two things have never been quite separable for me. I do insist on making what I hope is sense so there's always a coherent narrative or argument that the reader can follow instantly the first time through and then if there's something more to occupy the reader, I've been lucky.

Grace:
Because you care that poetry returns to the people

Howard:
Because language cares. Language is remarkable in that, except under the extreme constraints of mathematics and logic, it never can talk only about what it's supposed to talk about but is always spreading around so that the lovers, the commonwealth, the economy, they all get mixed into the act in a very this term must come from cooking-- in a very "meddled" way

Grace:
Our last work is not written as long as we have that kind of diffuse language which can't be captured. You have always cared very much that your reader has something to read beyond just your thoughts. You've always had a story line a narrative poet

Howard:
Well my narratives tend to be ones in which nothing much happens like the later Henry James

Grace:
We didn't say you had to have a plot

Howard:
Oh I have a plot but not much happens

Grace:
Are there any poetry prizes you have not received

Howard:
A lot. I'm sitting waiting with my hands out. I don't know what's taking them so long except for the unfortunate circumstances that there are other poets. Henry James advises the author to be generous and delicate and pursue the prize. He meant art. There are so many who are not generous or delicate but make up for it triply by pursuing the prizes. My poem FELLOWSHIP in WAR STORIES talks about this G: I've spoken to you about my startled discovery of your plays ENDOR and CAIN. I won't accept your talk of them being visited upon you and channeled through your arm. Playwrighting dramatic literature is a very different process from the charged writing of the poem. Tell me about that moment of inspiration. Let us take Cain. Had you been thinking about this for a long time.

Howard:
I'd been thinking about it and not doing anything about it. I guess I read Lord Byron's little play about Cain and said 'Oh Dear, that's not the way to do it.'

Grace:
And ENDOR

Howard:
ENDOR was commissioned by the Union Theological Seminary in New York and I had that story about Saul in mind. The nice thing about the Bible is it doesn't give you too many facts. Two an a half lines and it tells you the whole story and that leaves you a great deal of freedom to elaborate on how it might have happened.

Grace:
You certainly got new psychological action from Cain and Abel and the mother. The characters were doing things that had not been covered before.

Howard:
Jim Dickey told me once that he found the last part of the Cane play more moving than anything in Shakespeare. That was a nice thing for him to say, though I don't believe it

Grace:
Those two plays are little discussed exquisite pieces of writing. I wonder how they are on the stage

Howard:
They work out pretty good. Although a reputable actress said (of Cain) that I didn't understand people That these weren't real people. I said "Thank God For That!"

Grace:
These plays are in THE COLLECTED POEMS and originally

Howard:
About 1962 THE NEXT ROOM OF THE DREAM

Grace:
I suggest that we do not know Howard Nemerov until we know these plays. I also want to talk about the humor in your poetry

Howard:
When I was starting to write the great influence was T.S. Eliot and after that William Butler Yeats. I got, of course, the idea that what you were supposed to do was be plenty morbid and predict the end of civilization many times but civilization has ended so many times during my brief term on earth that I got a little bored with the theme and in old age I concluded that the model was really Mother Goose, and so you can see this in my new poems.

Grace:
How do you keep your energy, teaching through the years

Howard:
We're not in love with Literature all the time when we're teaching especially when you have to teach it every day

Grace:
Do any students surprise you at this point in your life Does anyone come up with a line which really takes your breath away

Howard:
Occasionally a student writer comes up with something really beautiful and moving and of course you won't know for years if it was an accident or the first burst of something wonderful

Grace:
That's necessary in order to keep teaching

Howard:
Well as I say to my graduate students "It's my education. You're coming along for the ride."

Grace:
Who said teaching was talking for an hour

Howard:
That was Ezra Pound. He said a teacher is a person who must talk for an hour. My definition came up with a friend. I said "Did I tell you my new definition of a teacher?" He said 'no.' I said "A teacher is a person who never says anything once." He said 'Oh yes I remember you told me that last week.'

Grace:
What is the title of this new manuscript you're holding

Howard:
There's a picture by my sister, Diane Arbus, called "A Castle in Disneyland" and I think I like that title

Grace:
This will be a very good book

Howard:
We have a long way to go 20 or 30 more poems

Grace:
How long does it take Howard Nemerov to write twenty poems

Howard:
When it comes, it comes in a couple of months. Then it might not come for a couple of years thereafter. Some people do it slow and steady but when it comes to me to do it, it comes very rapidly with long sterile periods in between

Grace:
In your new poems you seem to take a new philosophical position

Howard:
People have accused me of being so rough on Christmas and Santa Claus and conventional beliefs I've started to set the record straight on the other side

Grace:
I would say that in some of your early poems you would argue your way into Heaven. You were so tough with God

Howard:
I still am. Somebody asked me 'Do you believe in God now' I said "No, but I talk to him much more than I used to."

Grace:
Tell us about your inaugural poem for the upcoming election

Howard:
Well I don't think either candidate is going to like it

Grace:
If asked to read it officially, surely you'd have to find something to say which was complimentary

Howard:
I don't see why

Grace:
You'll give poets a bad name

Howard:
No I'm going to give presidents a bad name. These guys have been clanging each other for three months. Do we have to get all reverent suddenly?

Grace:
I think you give the impression of being very much of the physical world, writing about current events but I want to touch on the fact that your writing is very mystical and you don't admit this often. You don't admit communicating with the other worlds but you do

Howard:
Well the spirit world doesn't admit to communicating with me tether so it's fairly even. As it's said if you talk to God it's prayer. If God talks to you it's paranoia an early 20th century American folksaying

Grace:
Have you read every poem you've ever written publicly

Howard:
You get stuck in a cycle where you tend to read some more than others

Grace:
I am always interested in your sense of security about your ideas although you change them often. When I read your essays I am taken with the sound of self confidence. Where does that come from... a secure childhood? not looking back?

Howard:
Probably ignorance. When you write it doesn't occur to you that somebody could think different from what you do

Grace:
But you so often take on the opposite view especially from that of the critics

Howard:
Thatís all a part of the game, isn't it. Howard Nemerov and Grace Cavalieri Howard Nemerov and Grace Cavalieri THE POET AND THE POEM Recorded at the Library of Congress with Howard Nemerov, the third Poet Laureate of the U.S. October 1988 A CONVERSATION WITH HOWARD NEMEROV Howard Nemerov (1920 - 1991) Grace Cavalieri: Howard Nemerov was the third Poet Laureate of the United States. At the time of this interview he was working on his 14th volume of poetry. He is the author of three novels, two collections of short stories and has received every top award including the Pulitzer in' 78. At the time of his death he was the Distinguished University Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis. This interview took place the day of Mr. Nemerov's inauguration as Laureate. It was broadcast nationwide on satellite to public radio stations. Grace Cavalieri: I see you have a new manuscript in your hands. Do you like these new poems Howard Nemerov: I like all my children, even the squat and ugly ones.

Grace:
I am impressed because you always seem to remember all the poems you've ever written.

Howard:
Well, I remember that I've written them but I've never memorized many of them.

Grace:
This is the year of a presidential election so let's talk about whether history can tell us where we're going in our poetry. And can we read a poem and tell where we're headed?

Howard:
Can't be done. History is one of those marvelous and necessary illusions we have to deal with. It's one of the ways of dealing with our world with impossible generalities which we couldn't live without.

Grace:
And the fact that it's sequential, and chronicles things far different from the way the poet views the world.

Howard:
Yes, and a chronicle is very different from history proper. The historian is terribly responsible to what he can discern are the facts of the case but he's nothing if he doesn't make out a case.

Grace:
As to the moral awareness of our times, is the poet better equipped than the historian to handle the meanings of great events

Howard:
Well we wouldn't want to do without either

Grace:
Looking at your new manuscript, I see some poems are very short in length. And in the past you've written four poems. Are these thoughts which jell into a poem

Howard:
Well once in awhile you have a thought and you rhyme it but mostly the thought and the verse come inseparably one from the there. In my poem POETICS, it's as close as I come to telling how I do it

Grace:
That poem is a good description of your process . . . a story . . . a disappointment . . . a joke

Howard:
I sometimes talk about the making of a poem within the poem. When Robert Frost was alive I was known as the other new England poet which is to be barely known at all and after Robert and I became friends, and after he died, I wrote a poem about a couple of maple trees I'd walked under every Autumn. They come in the last line. And Robert had always said you mustn't think of the last line first or it's only a fake poem and not a real one and while I'm inclined to agree I make my own exceptions. I've thought of the last line of some poems for years and tried them out and it wouldn't work because the last line was much too beautiful for the poem and the poem never arrived at it properly but finally I think I got it in the poem FOR ROBERT FROST, IN THE AUTUMN, IN VERMONT "now on your turning page/ The lines blaze with a constant light, displayed/ As in the maple's cold and fiery shade."

Grace:
That's in your collected poems

Howard:
Yes somewhere late. I can't remember which book it was

Grace:
As you continue to write, are you grappling with the same concepts as always. I know you've taken on every subject from football to cars, Everything that happens in daily life is in your poetry. And in your plays we get a strong premise of good and evil. You deal with every human element. In your 14th volume of poetry, are you considering new ideas about good and evil

Howard:
I think there's one thing which distinguishes our art is that we don't consider. We don't think. We write a little verse because it comes to us, and no doubt when we're long gone and out of range people will show that it was our autobiography the whole time and that it was consistent and thematic, and its attitudes can be traced from poem to poem but that doesn't bother us. We hope every one is new. At the same time Shakespeare tells the same stories over and over in so many guises that it takes a long time before you notice

Grace:
We'll leave it to the scholars to say whether you're always writing the same poem and when you're doing it differently

Howard:
You'd like for it to be both of course. In my WAR STORIES I tell a little about how I do it except that they're about piloting and poetry. And a lot happens by accident in poetry as you know

Grace:
You have said that the verse and the idea are inseparable so you think in rhythmic tones, perhaps even in meter at this point

Howard:
Well I would talk in iambic pentameter if it were easier

Grace:
There is a spiritual knowledge in your work, and there is the analytical part of you. How do they divvy up. What is the proportion of the technical and the intellectual to the other

Howard:
I'd be the last person to know or to be trusted on the answer. The two things have never been quite separable for me. I do insist on making what I hope is sense so there's always a coherent narrative or argument that the reader can follow instantly the first time through and then if there's something more to occupy the reader, I've been lucky.

Grace:
Because you care that poetry returns to the people

Howard:
Because language cares. Language is remarkable in that, except under the extreme constraints of mathematics and logic, it never can talk only about what it's supposed to talk about but is always spreading around so that the lovers, the commonwealth, the economy, they all get mixed into the act in a very this term must come from cooking-- in a very "meddled" way

Grace:
Our last work is not written as long as we have that kind of diffuse language which can't be captured. You have always cared very much that your reader has something to read beyond just your thoughts. You've always had a story line a narrative poet

Howard:
Well my narratives tend to be ones in which nothing much happens like the later Henry James

Grace:
We didn't say you had to have a plot

Howard:
Oh I have a plot but not much happens

Grace:
Are there any poetry prizes you have not received

Howard:
A lot. I'm sitting waiting with my hands out. I don't know what's taking them so long except for the unfortunate circumstances that there are other poets. Henry James advises the author to be generous and delicate and pursue the prize. He meant art. There are so many who are not generous or delicate but make up for it triply by pursuing the prizes. My poem FELLOWSHIP in WAR STORIES talks about this G: I've spoken to you about my startled discovery of your plays ENDOR and CAIN. I won't accept your talk of them being visited upon you and channeled through your arm. Playwrighting dramatic literature is a very different process from the charged writing of the poem. Tell me about that moment of inspiration. Let us take Cain. Had you been thinking about this for a long time.

Howard:
I'd been thinking about it and not doing anything about it. I guess I read Lord Byron's little play about Cain and said 'Oh Dear, that's not the way to do it.'

Grace:
And ENDOR

Howard:
ENDOR was commissioned by the Union Theological Seminary in New York and I had that story about Saul in mind. The nice thing about the Bible is it doesn't give you too many facts. Two an a half lines and it tells you the whole story and that leaves you a great deal of freedom to elaborate on how it might have happened.

Grace:
You certainly got new psychological action from Cain and Abel and the mother. The characters were doing things that had not been covered before.

Howard:
Jim Dickey told me once that he found the last part of the Cane play more moving than anything in Shakespeare. That was a nice thing for him to say, though I don't believe it

Grace:
Those two plays are little discussed exquisite pieces of writing. I wonder how they are on the stage

Howard:
They work out pretty good. Although a reputable actress said (of Cain) that I didn't understand people That these weren't real people. I said "Thank God For That!"

Grace:
These plays are in THE COLLECTED POEMS and originally

Howard:
About 1962 THE NEXT ROOM OF THE DREAM

Grace:
I suggest that we do not know Howard Nemerov until we know these plays. I also want to talk about the humor in your poetry

Howard:
When I was starting to write the great influence was T.S. Eliot and after that William Butler Yeats. I got, of course, the idea that what you were supposed to do was be plenty morbid and predict the end of civilization many times but civilization has ended so many times during my brief term on earth that I got a little bored with the theme and in old age I concluded that the model was really Mother Goose, and so you can see this in my new poems.

Grace:
How do you keep your energy, teaching through the years

Howard:
We're not in love with Literature all the time when we're teaching especially when you have to teach it every day

Grace:
Do any students surprise you at this point in your life Does anyone come up with a line which really takes your breath away

Howard:
Occasionally a student writer comes up with something really beautiful and moving and of course you won't know for years if it was an accident or the first burst of something wonderful

Grace:
That's necessary in order to keep teaching

Howard:
Well as I say to my graduate students "It's my education. You're coming along for the ride."

Grace:
Who said teaching was talking for an hour

Howard:
That was Ezra Pound. He said a teacher is a person who must talk for an hour. My definition came up with a friend. I said "Did I tell you my new definition of a teacher?" He said 'no.' I said "A teacher is a person who never says anything once." He said 'Oh yes I remember you told me that last week.'

Grace:
What is the title of this new manuscript you're holding

Howard:
There's a picture by my sister, Diane Arbus, called "A Castle in Disneyland" and I think I like that title

Grace:
This will be a very good book

Howard:
We have a long way to go 20 or 30 more poems

Grace:
How long does it take Howard Nemerov to write twenty poems

Howard:
When it comes, it comes in a couple of months. Then it might not come for a couple of years thereafter. Some people do it slow and steady but when it comes to me to do it, it comes very rapidly with long sterile periods in between

Grace:
In your new poems you seem to take a new philosophical position

Howard:
People have accused me of being so rough on Christmas and Santa Claus and conventional beliefs I've started to set the record straight on the other side

Grace:
I would say that in some of your early poems you would argue your way into Heaven. You were so tough with God

Howard:
I still am. Somebody asked me 'Do you believe in God now' I said "No, but I talk to him much more than I used to."

Grace:
Tell us about your inaugural poem for the upcoming election

Howard:
Well I don't think either candidate is going to like it

Grace:
If asked to read it officially, surely you'd have to find something to say which was complimentary

Howard:
I don't see why

Grace:
You'll give poets a bad name

Howard:
No I'm going to give presidents a bad name. These guys have been clanging each other for three months. Do we have to get all reverent suddenly?

Grace:
I think you give the impression of being very much of the physical world, writing about current events but I want to touch on the fact that your writing is very mystical and you don't admit this often. You don't admit communicating with the other worlds but you do

Howard:
Well the spirit world doesn't admit to communicating with me tether so it's fairly even. As it's said if you talk to God it's prayer. If God talks to you it's paranoia an early 20th century American folksaying

Grace:
Have you read every poem you've ever written publicly

Howard:
You get stuck in a cycle where you tend to read some more than others

Grace:
I am always interested in your sense of security about your ideas although you change them often. When I read your essays I am taken with the sound of self confidence. Where does that come from... a secure childhood? not looking back?

Howard:
Probably ignorance. When you write it doesn't occur to you that somebody could think different from what you do

Grace:
But you so often take on the opposite view especially from that of the critics

Howard:
Thatís all a part of the game, isn't it. Howard Nemerov and Grace Cavalieri Howard Nemerov and Grace Cavalieri THE POET AND THE POEM Recorded at the Library of Congress with Howard Nemerov, the third Poet Laureate of the U.S. October 1988 A CONVERSATION WITH HOWARD NEMEROV Howard Nemerov (1920 - 1991) Grace Cavalieri: Howard Nemerov was the third Poet Laureate of the United States. At the time of this interview he was working on his 14th volume of poetry. He is the author of three novels, two collections of short stories and has received every top award including the Pulitzer in' 78. At the time of his death he was the Distinguished University Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis. This interview took place the day of Mr. Nemerov's inauguration as Laureate. It was broadcast nationwide on satellite to public radio stations. Grace Cavalieri: I see you have a new manuscript in your hands. Do you like these new poems Howard Nemerov: I like all my children, even the squat and ugly ones.

Grace:
I am impressed because you always seem to remember all the poems you've ever written.

Howard:
Well, I remember that I've written them but I've never memorized many of them.

Grace:
This is the year of a presidential election so let's talk about whether history can tell us where we're going in our poetry. And can we read a poem and tell where we're headed?

Howard:
Can't be done. History is one of those marvelous and necessary illusions we have to deal with. It's one of the ways of dealing with our world with impossible generalities which we couldn't live without.

Grace:
And the fact that it's sequential, and chronicles things far different from the way the poet views the world.

Howard:
Yes, and a chronicle is very different from history proper. The historian is terribly responsible to what he can discern are the facts of the case but he's nothing if he doesn't make out a case.

Grace:
As to the moral awareness of our times, is the poet better equipped than the historian to handle the meanings of great events

Howard:
Well we wouldn't want to do without either

Grace:
Looking at your new manuscript, I see some poems are very short in length. And in the past you've written four poems. Are these thoughts which jell into a poem

Howard:
Well once in awhile you have a thought and you rhyme it but mostly the thought and the verse come inseparably one from the there. In my poem POETICS, it's as close as I come to telling how I do it

Grace:
That poem is a good description of your process . . . a story . . . a disappointment . . . a joke

Howard:
I sometimes talk about the making of a poem within the poem. When Robert Frost was alive I was known as the other new England poet which is to be barely known at all and after Robert and I became friends, and after he died, I wrote a poem about a couple of maple trees I'd walked under every Autumn. They come in the last line. And Robert had always said you mustn't think of the last line first or it's only a fake poem and not a real one and while I'm inclined to agree I make my own exceptions. I've thought of the last line of some poems for years and tried them out and it wouldn't work because the last line was much too beautiful for the poem and the poem never arrived at it properly but finally I think I got it in the poem FOR ROBERT FROST, IN THE AUTUMN, IN VERMONT "now on your turning page/ The lines blaze with a constant light, displayed/ As in the maple's cold and fiery shade."

Grace:
That's in your collected poems

Howard:
Yes somewhere late. I can't remember which book it was

Grace:
As you continue to write, are you grappling with the same concepts as always. I know you've taken on every subject from football to cars, Everything that happens in daily life is in your poetry. And in your plays we get a strong premise of good and evil. You deal with every human element. In your 14th volume of poetry, are you considering new ideas about good and evil

Howard:
I think there's one thing which distinguishes our art is that we don't consider. We don't think. We write a little verse because it comes to us, and no doubt when we're long gone and out of range people will show that it was our autobiography the whole time and that it was consistent and thematic, and its attitudes can be traced from poem to poem but that doesn't bother us. We hope every one is new. At the same time Shakespeare tells the same stories over and over in so many guises that it takes a long time before you notice

Grace:
We'll leave it to the scholars to say whether you're always writing the same poem and when you're doing it differently

Howard:
You'd like for it to be both of course. In my WAR STORIES I tell a little about how I do it except that they're about piloting and poetry. And a lot happens by accident in poetry as you know

Grace:
You have said that the verse and the idea are inseparable so you think in rhythmic tones, perhaps even in meter at this point

Howard:
Well I would talk in iambic pentameter if it were easier

Grace:
There is a spiritual knowledge in your work, and there is the analytical part of you. How do they divvy up. What is the proportion of the technical and the intellectual to the other

Howard:
I'd be the last person to know or to be trusted on the answer. The two things have never been quite separable for me. I do insist on making what I hope is sense so there's always a coherent narrative or argument that the reader can follow instantly the first time through and then if there's something more to occupy the reader, I've been lucky.

Grace:
Because you care that poetry returns to the people

Howard:
Because language cares. Language is remarkable in that, except under the extreme constraints of mathematics and logic, it never can talk only about what it's supposed to talk about but is always spreading around so that the lovers, the commonwealth, the economy, they all get mixed into the act in a very this term must come from cooking-- in a very "meddled" way

Grace:
Our last work is not written as long as we have that kind of diffuse language which can't be captured. You have always cared very much that your reader has something to read beyond just your thoughts. You've always had a story line a narrative poet

Howard:
Well my narratives tend to be ones in which nothing much happens like the later Henry James

Grace:
We didn't say you had to have a plot

Howard:
Oh I have a plot but not much happens

Grace:
Are there any poetry prizes you have not received

Howard:
A lot. I'm sitting waiting with my hands out. I don't know what's taking them so long except for the unfortunate circumstances that there are other poets. Henry James advises the author to be generous and delicate and pursue the prize. He meant art. There are so many who are not generous or delicate but make up for it triply by pursuing the prizes. My poem FELLOWSHIP in WAR STORIES talks about this G: I've spoken to you about my startled discovery of your plays ENDOR and CAIN. I won't accept your talk of them being visited upon you and channeled through your arm. Playwrighting dramatic literature is a very different process from the charged writing of the poem. Tell me about that moment of inspiration. Let us take Cain. Had you been thinking about this for a long time.

Howard:
I'd been thinking about it and not doing anything about it. I guess I read Lord Byron's little play about Cain and said 'Oh Dear, that's not the way to do it.'

Grace:
And ENDOR

Howard:
ENDOR was commissioned by the Union Theological Seminary in New York and I had that story about Saul in mind. The nice thing about the Bible is it doesn't give you too many facts. Two an a half lines and it tells you the whole story and that leaves you a great deal of freedom to elaborate on how it might have happened.

Grace:
You certainly got new psychological action from Cain and Abel and the mother. The characters were doing things that had not been covered before.

Howard:
Jim Dickey told me once that he found the last part of the Cane play more moving than anything in Shakespeare. That was a nice thing for him to say, though I don't believe it

Grace:
Those two plays are little discussed exquisite pieces of writing. I wonder how they are on the stage

Howard:
They work out pretty good. Although a reputable actress said (of Cain) that I didn't understand people That these weren't real people. I said "Thank God For That!"

Grace:
These plays are in THE COLLECTED POEMS and originally

Howard:
About 1962 THE NEXT ROOM OF THE DREAM

Grace:
I suggest that we do not know Howard Nemerov until we know these plays. I also want to talk about the humor in your poetry

Howard:
When I was starting to write the great influence was T.S. Eliot and after that William Butler Yeats. I got, of course, the idea that what you were supposed to do was be plenty morbid and predict the end of civilization many times but civilization has ended so many times during my brief term on earth that I got a little bored with the theme and in old age I concluded that the model was really Mother Goose, and so you can see this in my new poems.

Grace:
How do you keep your energy, teaching through the years

Howard:
We're not in love with Literature all the time when we're teaching especially when you have to teach it every day

Grace:
Do any students surprise you at this point in your life Does anyone come up with a line which really takes your breath away

Howard:
Occasionally a student writer comes up with something really beautiful and moving and of course you won't know for years if it was an accident or the first burst of something wonderful

Grace:
That's necessary in order to keep teaching

Howard:
Well as I say to my graduate students "It's my education. You're coming along for the ride."

Grace:
Who said teaching was talking for an hour

Howard:
That was Ezra Pound. He said a teacher is a person who must talk for an hour. My definition came up with a friend. I said "Did I tell you my new definition of a teacher?" He said 'no.' I said "A teacher is a person who never says anything once." He said 'Oh yes I remember you told me that last week.'

Grace:
What is the title of this new manuscript you're holding

Howard:
There's a picture by my sister, Diane Arbus, called "A Castle in Disneyland" and I think I like that title

Grace:
This will be a very good book

Howard:
We have a long way to go 20 or 30 more poems

Grace:
How long does it take Howard Nemerov to write twenty poems

Howard:
When it comes, it comes in a couple of months. Then it might not come for a couple of years thereafter. Some people do it slow and steady but when it comes to me to do it, it comes very rapidly with long sterile periods in between

Grace:
In your new poems you seem to take a new philosophical position

Howard:
People have accused me of being so rough on Christmas and Santa Claus and conventional beliefs I've started to set the record straight on the other side

Grace:
I would say that in some of your early poems you would argue your way into Heaven. You were so tough with God

Howard:
I still am. Somebody asked me 'Do you believe in God now' I said "No, but I talk to him much more than I used to."

Grace:
Tell us about your inaugural poem for the upcoming election

Howard:
Well I don't think either candidate is going to like it

Grace:
If asked to read it officially, surely you'd have to find something to say which was complimentary

Howard:
I don't see why

Grace:
You'll give poets a bad name

Howard:
No I'm going to give presidents a bad name. These guys have been clanging each other for three months. Do we have to get all reverent suddenly?

Grace:
I think you give the impression of being very much of the physical world, writing about current events but I want to touch on the fact that your writing is very mystical and you don't admit this often. You don't admit communicating with the other worlds but you do

Howard:
Well the spirit world doesn't admit to communicating with me tether so it's fairly even. As it's said if you talk to God it's prayer. If God talks to you it's paranoia an early 20th century American folksaying

Grace:
Have you read every poem you've ever written publicly

Howard:
You get stuck in a cycle where you tend to read some more than others

Grace:
I am always interested in your sense of security about your ideas although you change them often. When I read your essays I am taken with the sound of self confidence. Where does that come from... a secure childhood? not looking back?

Howard:
Probably ignorance. When you write it doesn't occur to you that somebody could think different from what you do

Grace:
But you so often take on the opposite view especially from that of the critics

Howard:
Thatís all a part of the game, isn't it.