Howard Nemerov’s poetry revolves about the theme of the absurd place of humankind within the large drama of time. It also illustrates his divided temperament, about which he wrote in Journal of the Fictive Life, “I must attempt to bring together the opposed elements of my character represented by poetry and fiction.” These conflicts—the romantic-realist, the skeptic-believer, the scientist-poet—reflect the fragmentation and angst of modern existence. He did not employ scientific terms in a sentimental manner in his poetry but included nebulae, particles, and light-years as true poetic subjects, not simply metaphors for human concerns. Nemerov was a Renaissance man in his breadth and an eighteenth century man of letters in his satire, wit, and respect for form. His spiritual questions and his refusal of any orthodoxy, whether religious or artistic, made him a twentieth century existentialist.
Like any great figure, however, Nemerov defied categorization. He lived his life in and for literature in an age that values, as he wrote in his Journal of the Fictive Life, “patient, minute analysis”; he gave himself to “the wholeness of things,” “the great primary human drama” in a time when some consider that loving the human story is “unsophisticated, parochial, maybe even sinful.”
Many writers reach a plateau; Nemerov kept growing. In his evolution, he became less bitter and more loving. As he became more...
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