Howard Nemerov on his Influences

by Anna Blanch on December 15, 2008

Nemerov is quoted as once having said, “When I was starting to write, the great influence was T.S. Eliot and after that William Butler Yeats”. Given my recent immersion in Irish poetry I was curious about Nemerov’s statement. He enamoured himself to me with this gem – “We’re not in love with Literature all the time – especially when you have to teach it every day”. Oh so true, I think this is why reading Boland’s Object Lessons recently was so refreshing, because it really was beautiful.

Of the significance of Eliot in poetic terms, Nemerov observes that:
“I think there was a revolution in poetry, associated chiefly with Eliot and Pound; but maybe it is of the nature of revolutions or of the nature of history that their innovations should later come to look trivial or indistinguishable from technical tricks”.

Poetics
You know the old story Ann Landers tells
About the housewife in her basement doing the wash?
She’s wearing her nightie, and she thinks, “Well, hell,
I might’s well put this in as well,” and then
Being dripped on by a leaky pipe puts on
Her son’s football helmet; whereupon
The meter reader happens to walk through
and “Lady,” he gravely says, “I sure hope your team wins.”

A story many times told in many ways,
The set of random accidents redeemed
By one more accident, as though chaos
Were the order that was before the creation came.
That is the way things happen in the world:
A joke, a disappointment satisfied,
As we walk through doing our daily round,
Reading the meter, making things add up.

On a different note – though generally pertinent to this blog, Nemerov once said of the bible –
The nice thing about the Bible is it doesn’t give you too many facts. Two an a half lines and it tells you the whole story and that leaves you a great deal of freedom to elaborate on how it might have happened”.

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