Howard Moss Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Like many other contemporary poets, Howard Moss experimented with drama. His play The Folding Green was first performed in 1954 by the Poets’ Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and again, in 1965, in a workshop production by the Playwrights’ Unit of Theater 1965. The Oedipus Mah-Jongg Scandal was performed in 1968 by the Cooperative Theatre Club in New York. A third play, The Palace at 4 A.M., was given a staged reading by the Playwrights’ Unit in New York in 1972. Both The Palace at 4 A.M. and The Folding Green were published in 1980. In addition to drama, Moss published a critical study, The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust (1962), and three collections of criticism: Writing Against Time: Critical Essays and Reviews (1969), Whatever Is Moving (1981), and Minor Monuments: Selected Essays (1986); the last discusses the work of writers ranging from Gustave Flaubert to Anton Chekhov to Katherine Anne Porter. In 1974, he published Instant Lives, satirical biographies illustrated by Edward Gorey. Moss was also editor of Keats (1959), The Nonsense Books of Edward Lear (1964), The Poet’s Story (1973), and New York (1980).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although widely respected for his poetry, Howard Moss is perhaps better known for having been the poetry editor of The New Yorker. After 1950, when he assumed that post, his careful editorial judgment and clearheaded vision helped to construct the environment of taste, wit, and sensibility in which many of the well-known poets writing in the English language in the latter half of that century developed and matured. Moss opened the pages of The New Yorker to a rich and diverse flow of poetic talent: John Updike and David Ray, Elizabeth Bishop and Mark Strand, David Wagoner and Donald Justice, W. S. Merwin and Dave Smith, Philip Levine and Charles Simic. The list is long and impressive and could be extended almost indefinitely. Moss is one of a handful of influential editors and craftsmen who helped give shape and direction to the flow of poetry in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Moss’s poetry is characterized by a lucid, often ironic voice; by evocative images; and by sure, sensitive, rhythmical language. His major concerns remained almost unchanged after they were first voiced in The Wound and the Weather: the passage of time, the paradox of change and permanence, the acceptance of loss and gain (of friends, of beauty, of love, of life). His own influences seem clearly marked: Wallace Stevens (visible in Moss’s wordplay and in his sometimes extravagant language) and W. H. Auden (noted chiefly in Moss’s carefully...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Clampitt, Amy. “Between the Lines: Rereading Harold Moss.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 15, no. 1 (1989): 340. Clampitt examines Moss’s poetry, concluding that he is undervalued as a poet.

Gioia, Dana. “The Difficult Case of Howard Moss.” Antioch Review 45 (Winter, 1987): 98-109. Although this is primarily a review of Moss’s New Selected Poetry, it also surveys the poet’s life, poetry, and career as poetry editor for The New Yorker. Gioia acknowledges that Moss’s career at The New Yorker had a largely negative impact on his poetry by robbing it of serious and sustained critical evaluations. Admirably corrects this oversight.

Howard, Richard. Alone with America. New York: Atheneum, 1980. The chapter on Moss reviews his work and illustrates the qualities that set him apart from “the many others who are merely suave or serviceable.” Among these qualities are his rhythms, his use of conceits and puns, and his contrasts of human and universal order. Howard writes in a lean style and includes passages from major Moss works to illustrate his key points.

“Howard Moss.” The New Yorker, October 5, 1987, p. 128. The obituary that appeared in the magazine for which Moss served as an editor for many years describes his life, career, and work at the magazine....

(The entire section is 419 words.)