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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 726

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Howard Nemerov’s scrutiny of the relationship between everyday living and the creative process is presented in two books and a coda. Book 1 purports to be the journal of Felix Ledger, a novelist struggling with writer’s block; it is organized in cryptic paragraphs titled “reflexions” and alphabetized A through J. This format is abandoned after some fifty pages for book 2, 130 pages of journal entries in which Nemerov drops the mask of Felix Ledger and openly probes his own psyche. After his father’s death, Nemerov copes with his wife’s pregnancy and seeks to make sense out of dreams, travel, family memories, friendships, and creativity and literary form. “The Pond,” a meditative poem of more than one hundred lines, concludes the volume.

In book 1, Felix Ledger addresses the various fears that can keep a novelist from writing. Ledger discusses the fear of what others may think, the fear of offending colleagues, family, and friends in the portrayal of character. He also discusses the deeper fear of what one thinks oneself, the anxiety of not satisfying one’s own sense of what art is. Once the aspiring novelist has overcome his anxieties of beginning and his aversion to the protracted labor a novel entails (complicated in Ledger’s case by a predilection for writing poems), he still must struggle daily with the ghosts of memory and strive to construct a viable narrative. Ledger conceives of a plot about a young lady who is rescued from drowning by a stranger. She lies to him that she was attempting suicide in order to make herself more appealing to him, lures him into marriage, but then discovers that she cannot endure being married to him.

Ledger is concerned about how he can proceed with his novel without offending others, how he can deal with the implicated pasts of himself and the characters and manage the unresolved present, and how he can bestow sufficient life to the characters he has set in motion. He intends his novel to take up something he believes that most novels avoid: “the problem of memory.” Aristotle held that character is revealed only in action. According to Felix Ledger, “The novelist as a rule deals with more quotidian people than Aristotle’s dramatists did. . . . Therefore the novelist must to some extent deal with dreams, but to what extent does he deal with dreams as though they were realities?” The problem for the novelist becomes compounded “when the mind, unable to bear the richness of consequences entailed upon one idea, forthwith produces another instead.” The assimilation of memory is an important part of the novelist’s work.

In book 2, Nemerov abandons the fictional Felix Ledger and begins to record his own reflections. He seeks to understand the significance of his dreams of operas and journeys and to work out his true feelings toward his roles as son, father, husband, and writer. He continues to examine the Game of the Novel fitfully, though thoughts of the novel become increasingly subordinate to the discovery and clarification of his own past. He at last realizes that he has learned as much as he can, probed as deep as he is presently able, despite an apprehension that “there is no self, there is only an echoing emptiness within.” Against despair comes acceptance: “A voice speaks as though in answer, saying only: Life is the Lost and Found.” Later, within that same entry (written in the summer of 1963), Nemerov writes that “our son” is born.

Nemerov is able, after a season of fits and starts and conflicting impulses, to see the statue move, to find the drowned child, and to hear unearthly music. Life has moved to its own rhythms and granted him the metaphor of reconciliation he had been seeking. He can compose the poem “The Pond,” about a child lost through drowning, as “a memorial” to “boy and dragonfly together,” to the realm of man and nature, life and death, memory and misgivings reconciled. Nemerov is able to close the inquiry into the sources of literary creativity, the mind-transposing act of “taste, skill, vigor, and intelligence” that makes personal experience bearable, and memorable, the fictive reconstruction that redeems losses. He discovers that the filtered prose of everyday can bring forth poetry; experience can become art, words compose a music of their own, and life continues to contain the living.


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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 50

Bartholomay, Julia A. The Shield of Perseus: The Vision and Imagination of Howard Nemerov, 1972.

Duncan, Bowie, ed. The Critical Reception of Howard Nemerov: A Selection of Essays and a Bibliography, 1971.

Labrie, Ross. Howard Nemerov, 1980.

Meinke, Peter. Howard Nemerov, 1968.

Mills, William. The Stillness in Moving Things: The World of Howard Nemerov, 1975.


Critical Essays