For some readers and critics of poetry, Nemerov’s work has always been highly regarded, and for others it has taken awhile to get there. Those who received it well in the beginning only mildly complained that the poetry was a bit too derivative of earlier, popular poets, especially Robert Frost. But the harsher critics faulted it for a different reason, as Ross Labrie explains in his book Howard Nemerov: “A further reason for the belated recognition of Nemerov’s worth can be found in his quiet and resolute resistance to sentimentality and in his forthright pursuit of complex forms.” Labrie goes on to say that “his subject matter has appeared to many to be overly erudite and esoteric” and that his reputation “was of a cloistered academic who spent a lot of his time in trying to perfect obsolete forms of prose and verse.”
By the mid-1950s, Nemerov had loosened his “obsolete forms” and gained more appreciative readers. As Peter Meinke notes in his own Howard Nemerov, “It is in The Salt Garden (1955) that Nemerov first unifies his talent. . . . This book, praised by virtually all critics, had the misfortune to run up against The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, which swept the literary awards of 1955.” Of course, Nemerov went on to win his own literary awards and is today one of the most often anthologized poets in American collections.
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