Monday, December 1, 2008

John Hollander

John Hollander is Sterling Professor of English Emeritus at Yale University. His books include A Draft of Light: Poems (2008) and Rhyme's Reason: A Guide to English Verse (2001).

From Paul Devlin's 2003 with Hollander in the St. John's University Humanities Review:

Paul Devlin: I know that artistic creation is never a mechanical process, but I was just wondering about when writing a poem, do you first have the idea for the "philosophical" content of the poem, and then fit the content into a verse form, or do you ever want to experiment with a verse form, and find ideas to fill it?

John Hollander: I’m not sure what " ‘philosophical’ content" might be; in any case, there are scores of things that you might say a poem is "about"—just for a start: an old story, a new one, something heard, something seen, something realized . . .and in all of these cases, some meaning to be discovered; an in all these cases, the "story" could be of persons, places, things—and the things themselves could be natural or crafted objects, or even structures or pieces of language itself . . . etc. Thinking about any of these could constitute the "start" or "origin" of a poem, often long before it begins to take shape. But that shape (size, scale, relation of sub-units to whole, aspects of its language, diction, syntax, relation of both of these to linear structure, the linear and strophic structures themselves—whether in or adapting a recognizable "verse form" or evolving a new one) can be among the "somethings" that a poem starts with. If I am in the midst of a sequence of poems with some evident relation to each other, with a formal or rhetorical bond among them, I may know what shape and what size the next one will be—perhaps just the way you know, in a stanzaic poem, something about he size and shape of each successive stanza. Sometimes the desire to do something with a particular size or shape may precede other points of departure. But in all cases, the poetic nature of what is finally done depends on a mutual interpretation of the "form" with what you call the "content" (a distinction often made, but which I don’t like to use).
Read the complete Q & A.

Read about Hollander's five best milestones among poetry anthologies.

--Marshal Zeringue