Karl Shapiro Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Karl Shapiro wrote one novel, Edsel (1971); books of literary criticism, including Essay on Rime (1945), Beyond Criticism (1953), In Defense of Ignorance (1960), and To Abolish Children, and Other Essays (1968); and several works on prosody. He also coedited books on the activity of writers, one with W. H. Auden, Poets at Work (1948), and a second one, The Writer’s Experience (1964), with Ralph Ellison. The Poetry Wreck: Selected Essays 1950-1970 (1975) is an anthology of his criticism. He published two volumes of a projected three-volume autobiography before his death in 2000: The Younger Son (1988), which covered his youth and experiences in World War II, and Reports of My Death (1990), which covers the years from 1945 to 1985.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Karl Shapiro’s literary career was marked by both success and controversy. He has been labeled polemical, ambiguous, vulgar, inconsistent, uncommitted, and schizoid, yet most critics are agreed on the vibrant, precise, no-nonsense deployment of language and style in his writings, which secured for him a place of eminence in modern American letters. In 1945, at the age of thirty-two, he received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for V-Letters, and Other Poems. He received fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation (1944, 1953), the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1944), the Kenyon School of Letters (1956-1957), and the Eric Mathieu King Fund (1997). He was named a Fellow in American Letters, Library of Congress (1945), served as consultant in poetry (poet laureate) to the Library of Congress from 1946 to 1947, and became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1959. He won many other awards and honors, including the Jeanette Sewell Davis Prize and the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine (both in 1942), the Contemporary Poetry prize (1943), the Shelley Memorial Award (1946), the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize (1961), the Oscar Blumenthal Prize (1963), the Bollingen Prize (1969; shared with John Berryman), a Silver Medal in poetry from the Commonwealth Club of California (1976) for Adult Bookstore, the Robert Kirsch Award from the Los Angeles Times (1989), and the Charity Randall Citation (1990).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Kumin, Maxine. “On Karl Shapiro.” In The Roots of Things: Essays. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2010. The noted poet Kumin takes a look at Shapiro and his poetics.

Napierkowski, Marie Rose, and Mary K. Ruby, eds. Poetry for Students. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Contains an analysis of Shapiro’s “Auto Wreck,” as well as a brief biography and literary criticism.

Parisi, Joseph, and Stephen Young, eds. “Karl Shapiro: 1950-1955.” In Dear Editor: A History of “Poetry” in Letters—The First Fifty Years, 1912-1962. New York: Norton, 2002. Examines Shapiro’s tenure as editor of Poetry. A brief introduction, in which his tendency to cause controversy is noted, is followed by letters to the editor.

Reino, Joseph. Karl Shapiro. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Although dated, this overview study offers biographical information, critical assessment, and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Shapiro, Karl. “Karl Shapiro.” Interview by Robert Phillips. In The Madness of Art: Interviews with Poets and Writers, edited by Robert Phillips. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2003. In this 1984 interview, the seventy-two-year-old writer discusses his literary career, his Jewishness, his works, and other writers, admired and otherwise.

Updike, John. Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Contains the introduction Updike wrote for the 2003 Library of America collection of Shapiro’s poems. The lengthy introduction, written after Shapiro’s death, tells the story of his life in detail and provides critical analysis.

Walker, Sue, ed. Seriously Meeting Karl Shapiro. Mobile, Ala.: Negative Capacity Press, 1993. Collects essays written about Shapiro by fellow poets and writers (John Updike, David Slavitt, Hayden Carruth, Ted Kooser) and others, including his wife, Sophie Wilkins. Many essays deal with his poems.