Inner Voices: Selected Poems, 1963-2003 Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004. 420 pages; $35.
Paper Trail: Selected Prose, 1965-2003 446 pages; $35.
FROM THE DUST JACKET:
Inner Voices: Selected Poems, 1963-2003: The poems of Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Howard are noted for their unique dramatic force and for preserving, in their graceful, exquisitely wrought lines, human utterance at its most urbane. Here, in the first volume to draw together material from Howard's twelve books of poems, readers can fully appreciate the erudite nuances of his lyric poetry and the superb human and historical bravura of his dramatic monologues and imagined conversations among famous figures. Inner Voices leaves no doubt as to why Howard has been "a powerful presence in American poetry for 40 years" (The New York Times Book Review).
Paper Trail: Selected Prose, 1965-2003. Richard Howard has been writing stylish, deeply informed commentary on modern culture and literature for more than four decades. Here is a selection of his finest essays, including some never before published in book form, on a splendid range of subjects -- from American poets like Emily Dickinson and Marianne Moore to French artists such as Rodin and Michel Delacroix. Also included are considerations of modern sculpture and of the photography of the human body. Howard's intense familiarity with modern poetry is seen to excellent effect in essays on the "poetry of forgetting," on the causes and effects of experimental poetry, and on the first books of poets whose work he helped introduce -- among them, J.D. McClatchy, Frank Bidart, and Cynthia MacDonald. Of course, Howard brings to his consideration of French literature a rare wisdom drawn from his celebrated work as a translator of Stendhal and Gide, Barthes and Cocteau, Yourcenar and Gracq. Hilton Kramer once wrote that Richard Howard "performs the essential critical service. He shows us the extent of the terrain. He points out its essential features. and he gives us a very vivid sense of its ethos as well as of its esthetics." Howard, now in his 75th year, continues his adroit, inventive commentary, which enriches us all.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
From Publishers Weekly: Drawing on 12 previous volumes (including 1970's Pulitzer-winning Untitled Subjects: Poems), this big assortment plays to Howard's strengths -- above all, to his impersonations and dramatic monologues. Howard's hyperarticulate sentences fit the preoccupations of his sophisticated personae, many of them 19th-century French and English writers and artists. John Ruskin, Henry James, the early photographer Nadar, Proust, and Jane Morris (William's widow) all receive extended embodiments, as do the secretaries and intimates of other great artists. The book includes Howard's anthology hits, among them "Nicholas of Mardruz" (a biting response to Browning) and "Infirmities," in which the aged Walt Whitman critiques the closeted Bram Stoker. His elaborate forms, or "habitual/disorders," "suffice to hold fast to the small/change of small changes," exploring regrets or assessing the pleasures of the flesh. Howard's later volumes grew more personal (and more successful) in revealing specifically gay male experience. On the whole, these densely figured poems justify the copious ambition they embody.
New York Post: In the last half-century, no American poet has been more instinctively, elegantly cosmopolitan than Richard Howard. Again, the French parallel seems necessary: Just as Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier was called the greatest French novel in the English language, so Mr. Howard deserves to be known as the greatest litterateur in America.
Joan Acocella, author of Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism: "Howard, with a text, is like the boyfriend everyone wants: he sees you for who you really are, and still loves you. His sympathy, like his culture, is immense. At the same time, because of his Stradivarian attunement to language (no surprise in a distinguished poet and translator), he sees what is actually there, the words, and from them alone extracts the meaning. His own use of language is an added gift: high, mandarin, but with pauses and dashes and side thoughts -- the movements of a happy mind."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Poet, scholar, teacher, critic, and translator Richard Howard was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1929. He received his B.A. from Columbia University and was a Fellow of the French Government at the University of Paris, Sorbonne. Howard has published 12 collections of poetry and myriad translations from the French, as well as numerous essays. He lives in New York City, where he teaches at Columbia University and is poetry editor of The Paris Review.
A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR: Richard Howard and I talked several weeks before he celebrated his 75th birthday. He was in his book-lined Manhattan apartment, and I was at home in California. Mr. Howard is an august literary personage, friend and counselor to America's finest writers. I felt too ignorant, too jejune, too inelegant to speak with him. But I did, and he was patient with me, and kind.
"This," I said, "to you, may seem like the silliest question in the world. But I don't understand the difference between verse and poetry."
"Okay. And would you like me to define?"
"Some poetry is written in verse and some verse, if it's meaningless enough, becomes poetry. But verse is merely the technical name for a kind of writing that is in a certain order. All poetry at one time used to be written in verse, but we have, since about 1870, a great deal of poetry that is written in other forms, from prose to some kind of verse or even some deliberately not-verse forms. It is a complicated issue, but I don't think it should get in your way."
"I always think, when someone says 'verse,' that they're speaking down about the poem. They're not quite taken with it."
"No, no. That's not right. You know the old name for it is 'numbers.' When Pope was a child he said, 'I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came.' In my case many of the poems are written according to a syllabic count, kind of an accentual one. That's a kind of verse: syllabic verse. It isn't necessarily something that you hear when it's read aloud, although you can see it on the page, very clearly. I would say that there's a more explicit order to verse. But it aspires to be poetry most of the time."