Alan Shapiro Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Alan Shapiro has confined his work mostly to poetry and poetic prose, but his 1993 collection of essays In Praise of the Impure: Poetry and the Ethical Imagination, Essays, 1980-1991 includes discussions of his poetic theory concerning the narrative element in lyric poetry and the way imaginative literature can test the reader’s moral certitude. The collection also includes some discussion of poetsJ. V. Cunningham,Robert Hass, James McMichael, Robert Pinsky, andJohn Berryman, as well as some discussion of New Formalism, a poetic school that particularly affected Shapiro’s early work.

The Last Happy Occasion (1996) is a collection of essays, partly biographical, mixed with literary criticism. In it, Shapiro uses individual poems as starting points for discussing literary theory as well as for discussions of the poems’ impact on his life. His memoir Vigil (1997) chronicles the death of his sister Beth from breast cancer. The death is agonizing for the whole family, and Shapiro examines the various ways individual members deal with it, ranging from her African American husband’s self-imposed isolation to her brother’s dark humor.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Alan Shapiro’s reputation has risen steadily as his body of poetry has increased. His earlier work was mostly formal; later work is less given to form. Shapiro received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (1986), the National Endowment for the Arts (1991), and the Project on Death in America of the Open Society Institute (1999). He won the William Carlos Williams Award (1987) and the Robert and Hazel Ferguson Memorial Award from The Friends for Literature (1987) for Happy Hour, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award (1991), and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for poetry (1996) for Mixed Company. The Last Happy Occasion was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Shapiro received the O. B. Hardison, Jr., Poetry Prize from the Folger Shakespeare Library (1999), the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award (2001) for The Dead Alive and Busy, an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2002), and two Roanoke-Chowan Awards for poetry for Song and Dance (2002) and for Tantalus in Love (2005). He was elected a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2005. He won the Sara Teasdale Award from Wellesley College (2005) and the Ambassador Book Award from the English Speaking Union of the United States (2009) for Old War.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Arnold, Elizabeth. “Parentheses of History.” Review of Old War. Tikkun 23, no. 3 (May/June, 2008): 92. Places Old War in the context of the rest of Shapiro’s work, concentrating on the panicked sense of recklessness in its poems’ tones.

Balbo, Ned. Review of Song and Dance. Antioch Review 60, no. 4 (Fall, 2002): 713. Examines the book from the perspective of the relationship between grief and song, praising the book’s success as an elegy.

Chiasson, Dan. “Acts of Watching.” Review of Tantalus in Love. Tikkun 20, no. 5 (September/October, 2005): 76. Focuses on the volume’s themes of longing, both in its chronicle of the end of a marriage and of the start of a new relationship.

Daniels, Kate. “Human Voices.” Southern Review 36, no. 1 (Winter, 2000): 165-178. In this analysis of Shapiro’s poetry, particularly Song and Dance, Daniels places Shapiro with the best of the modern poets, able to write both lyrically and concretely.

Gordon, Audrey K. Review of Vigil. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 41, no. 4 (1998): 606. This thoughtful review of Vigil discusses the memoir from a medical perspective, concentrating particularly on the way the medical community is portrayed in the work. The...

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