John Ciardi Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

The career of John Ciardi (CHAHR-dee) as a poet both generated and nourished his other remarkably varied and prolific literary activities, particularly his influential work as a teacher, critic, and author of two popular textbooks, How Does a Poem Mean? (1959) and Poetry: A Closer Look (1963). Ciardi served as an often controversial poetry editor of the Saturday Review (originally the Saturday Review of Literature) from 1956 to 1977. There he was responsible for selecting the verse that would be published in the magazine, as well as writing highly subjective columns covering a broad range of aesthetic subjects. Several volumes of his selected essays appeared, including Dialogue with an Audience (1963), Manner of Speaking (1972), and Ciardi Himself: Fifteen Essays in the Reading, Writing, and Teaching of Poetry (1989). The titles themselves suggest Ciardi’s awareness of the vital role of the reader (or “audience”) with whom the artist must communicate and his delight in the power and versatility of words. The Selected Letters of John Ciardi was published in 1991.

Ciardi’s work as a translator of Dante’s La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802) was closely related to his recognition as a poet, for he chose to present all three sections of the classic work in his characteristically forceful, idiomatic American verse, professing to offer not...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Whether John Ciardi ranks among the finest of contemporary poets remains to be seen; he himself defined a “modern poet” as one who has yet to stand the test of continued critical acclaim. Because he has never been identified with a “movement” and was never the spokesperson for a conspicuous cause, his popular reputation has been solely based on his poetry, essays, and personal efforts to effect a mutually meaningful dialogue with a middlebrow audience. His first poetry award was the Hopwood Award in poetry (1938) from the University of Michigan. He received the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine in 1946, the Prix de Rome from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1956, the International Platform Association’s Carl Sandburg Award in 1980, and the National Teachers Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1982. In 1986, he received the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize for The Birds of Pompeii. In his honor, the University of Rhode Island, Providence, established the John Ciardi Poetry Prize.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Ciardi, John. The Selected Letters of John Ciardi. Edited by Edward M. Cifelli. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991. Collection of correspondence with various literati including Isaac Asimov, Theodore Roethke, Muriel Rukeyser, and John Frederick Nims. Includes an index.

Cifelli, Edward M. John Ciardi: A Biography. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997. Cifelli, an expert on Ciardi’s work, chronicles the rise and fall of the poet’s fortune from his high profile in the 1940’s and 1950’s to his relative obscurity when the Beats and the confessional poets arrived.

Clemente, Vince, ed. John Ciardi: Measure of the Man. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1987. This collection of essays is essential for any student of Ciardi. Authors as varied as Isaac Asimov and MaxineKumin comment on Ciardi’s multifaceted life and writing career. Covers Ciardi’s work as a poet, a science-fiction writer, and an author for children.

Krickel, Edward Francis. John Ciardi. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A valuable introduction to the work of Ciardi. It contains a brief biography and an analytic overview of the body of his work. Supplemented by a thorough primary and secondary bibliography and an index.

Nims, John Frederick. “John Ciardi: The Many Lives of Poetry.” In John Ciardi: The Measure of the Man, edited by Vince Clemente. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1987. Nims addresses Ciardi as a poet and reveals his poetic bias when he praises Ciardi as a man of the world who gave up his career to write. Ciardi’s experience informed his poetry, which was rich and varied.

Williams, Miller. “John Ciardi: ’Nothing Is Really Hard but to Be Real.’” In The Achievement of John Ciardi, edited by Miller Williams. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1969. Williams edited a selection of Ciardi’s poems published from the mid-1940’s to the mid-1960’s. Williams’s essay on Ciardi is one of the best available. Suitable for all students.