Richard Howard Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Richard Howard wrote extensively about the work of other authors in a collection of criticism titled Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950 (1969). The book has been praised for its objectivity in discussing his subjects’ literary careers. Whenever he has known the writer personally, he uses his experience to enhance his understanding of the poet’s work, always focusing on the work, which he quotes extensively and comments on elaborately. He has also gained a considerable reputation as a translator of French literature, having produced works of such writers as André Gide, Albert Camus, Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, and Stendhal.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Perhaps more than any other modern poet, Richard Howard has developed the dramatic monologue into an expressive literary form. Without restricting himself formally, he has used the dramatic monologue in book after book to portray actual and imaginary figures, to create the mood and manners (at least in voice) of earlier epochs, and to link in one literary creation multiple perspectives on the artistic experience, especially that of the gay artist. At the same time, Howard has acquired considerable respect as a translator of important French writers, establishing himself as one of the best authorities on these writers. His scores of translations include works of philosophy, literary criticism, and fiction.

In 1966, Howard was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry and, in 1970, a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Untitled Subjects received a Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1970. His work has earned him many other awards, including the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine in 1973, the PEN Translation Prize in 1976 for his translation of E. M. Cioran’s A Short History of Decay and a National Book Award for his 1983 translation of Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire. In 1984, Howard was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite by the French government. He received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1989, the Ohioana Book Award for Poetry in 1995, a MacArthur Fellowship in 1996, and the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America in 2004. He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1983 and served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (1991-2000).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Bergman, David. Gaiety Transfigured: Gay Self-Representation in American Literature. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. Bergman devotes a chapter to the poetry of Walt Whitman, John Ashbery, and Howard, tracing their ideas of selfhood in their poetry and connecting these ideas to their homosexuality. The remaining nine chapters of this book establish the context in which gay writers express their sexuality.

Howard, Richard. “The Art of Poetry.” Interview by J. D. McClatchy. Paris Review, no. 169 (Spring, 2004): 174-201. An extensive twenty-eight page interview of Howard at his small apartment in Greenwich Village, New York City, in which he discusses his life and works.

Howard, Richard, and Marilyn Hacker. “The Education of a Poet: A Colloquy with Richard Howard and Marilyn Hacker.” Interview. Antioch Review 58 (Summer, 2000): 261. Howard and Hacker stress the need for beginning poets to read literature, especially that of other poets. Howard’s comments include some useful autobiographical information not found elsewhere.

Longenbach, James. “Richard Howard’s Modern World.” Salmagundi, no. 108 (Fall, 1995): 141-163. Longenbach’s lengthy examination focuses on the themes of loss and recovery in Howard’s poetry and on the distinction between the intimate self and the poet’s private life. Argues that Howard has sought to blur the line between the personal and the impersonal in his poetry.

_______. “Sex and Style in Contemporary American Poetry.” Raritan 19, no. 4 (Spring, 2000): 7-22. Longenbach argues that poetic style does not necessarily reflect the poet’s sexuality, and he defends Howard’s poetry against the charge that it is too prettified. Asserts that cultural expectations see the plain style as “manly” and the decorative style as “ladylike,” but the work of several modern poets shows that the poet’s sexuality need not determine the poet’s style.

Martin, Robert K. The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998. Martin’s survey of gay-themed poetry from Walt Whitman to the late 1990’s provides an excellent context in which to read Howard’s work. Martin’s study is complimentary and focuses on Howard’s skill in using the literary monologue to portray various character types. Sees Howard’s homosexuality as a central issue in the poet’s work, and shows how the past plays a major role in Howard’s thinking.