Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poets: Analysis of RICHARD HOWARD

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Richard Howard (1929-2022) was a significant figure in American poetry and literary scholarship in the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st. Known not just for his own poetry but also for his skill as a translator, particularly of French literature, Howard's contributions to the field of letters are manifold and profound.

Literary Background

Howard's literary background is eclectic and comprehensive. He received a classical education that deeply influenced his work, giving it a texture rich in historical and cultural allusions. A graduate of Columbia University, Howard was a part of the academic community, teaching at various institutions throughout his life, including Columbia, the University of Houston, and New York University. His extensive knowledge of literature is reflected in his poetry, which often includes intertextual references to literary works and figures.

Early Influences

Howard's early influences were the French Symbolist poets, such as Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé. His engagement with French literature was not limited to the Symbolists; it extended across a broad spectrum of French literary history, including writers like Marcel Proust and André Gide. His mastery of the French language and its literature informed his sensibilities as a poet and became the cornerstone of his career as a translator.

Poetic Schools or Movements

While Richard Howard's work does not belong to a single school or movement, his poetry is often associated with formalism for its structured approach and adherence to verse forms. However, he is also connected to postmodernism, as his work frequently demonstrates a self-consciousness about language and employs shifts in voice and narrative perspective that are hallmarks of postmodern technique.

Howard was also part of the New York School of poets, a group that was known for its artistic collaborations and influences from music, painting, and modernist literature. The New York School is often seen as a reaction against the confessional mode of poets like Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath, and Howard's work indeed tends towards the cerebral rather than the confessional.

Poetic Oeuvre

Richard Howard's poetic oeuvre is extensive and varied. His first collection of poems, "Quantities," appeared in 1962, and he continued to publish volumes of poetry throughout his life, including "Untitled Subjects," which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1970. His poetry often deals with the themes of art and artists, history, and narrative voice.

Key themes in Howard's work include:

*Art and Artists: Howard frequently wrote about the experience of art and artists, combining his keen observational skills with his deep knowledge of art history.

*Narrative and Voice: His poems often feature dramatic monologues or adopt the voices of historical figures, displaying his interest in narrative and the flexibility of poetic voice.

*Language and Translation: As a translator, Howard was deeply engaged with questions of language and meaning, which also surface in his poetry.

Howard's style is characterized by syntactic complexity and a rich, sometimes arcane, vocabulary. His work is dense with thought and allusion, often requiring careful and multiple readings.


Richard Howard was a significant influence in the world of poetry, particularly through his translations of French literature, which introduced English-speaking audiences to the works of seminal writers such as Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and François Jacob. His translations played a vital role in shaping American intellectual discourse, especially in the fields of literary theory and philosophy.


Howard received many honors throughout his career, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Award for Translation, and a MacArthur Fellowship. He was also a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


Richard Howard's legacy is that of a poet's poet, a scholar's scholar, and a translator's translator. His work bridges the gaps between creation, interpretation, and translation, illuminating the interconnectedness of literature across cultures and time periods. Howard's poetry, with its formal elegance and intellectual rigor, continues to challenge and delight readers, offering a window into the mind of one of the late 20th century's most profound literary talents. His influence extends beyond his own verse, encompassing his role as a teacher, a mentor, and a translator, and his work remains a vital part of the American literary canon.

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