Authors: John Hollander

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet, critic, and editor

Author Works


A Crackling of Thorns, 1958

Movie-going, and Other Poems, 1962

Visions from the Ramble, 1965

Types of Shape, 1969, expanded 1991

The Night Mirror, 1971

Town and Country Matters, 1972

Selected Poems, 1972

The Head of the Bed, 1974

Tales Told of the Fathers, 1975

Reflections on Espionage: The Question of Cupcake, 1976

Spectral Emanations: New and Selected Poems, 1978

In Place, 1978

Blue Wine, and Other Poems, 1979

Looking Ahead, 1982

Powers of Thirteen, 1983

In Time and Place, 1986

Harp Lakes, 1988

Selected Poetry, 1993

Tesserae, and Other Poems, 1993

The Gazer’s Spirit: Poems Speaking to Silent Works of Art, 1995 (poetry and art)

Figurehead, and Other Poems, 1999

Picture Window, 2003


An Entertainment for Elizabeth, Being a Masque of the Seven Motions: Or, Terpsichore Unchained, pr. 1969


The Untuning of the Sky: Ideas of Music in English Poetry, 1500-1700, 1961

Images of Voice: Music and Sound in Romantic Poetry, 1970

Vision and Resonance: Two Senses of Poetic Form, 1975, 2d edition 1985

The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After, 1981

Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse, 1981

Melodious Guile: Fictive Pattern in Poetic Language, 1988

The Poetry of Everyday Life, 1998

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

The Wind and the Rain: An Anthology of Poems for Young People, 1961 (edited with Harold Bloom; new edition 1977, edited with Joan Hollander and Bloom)

A Book of Various Owls, 1963 (poetry)

The Quest of the Gole, 1966 (poetry)

The Immense Parade on Supererogation Day, 1972

Edited Texts:

Selected Poems of Ben Jonson, 1961 (with Harold Bloom)

Jiggery-Pokery: A Compendium of Double Dactyls, 1966 (with Anthony Hecht)

Poems of Our Moment, 1968

American Short Stories Since 1945, 1968

Modern Poetry: Essays in Criticism, 1968

The Oxford Anthology of English Literature, 1973 (with Frank Kermode)

I. A. Richards: Essays in His Honor, 1973 (with Reuben Brower and Helen Vendler)

Literature as Experience: An Anthology, 1979 (with Irving Howe and David Bromwich)

The Oxford Anthology of English Literature: Major Authors Ed., 1985 (with Kermode)

Poetics of Influence: New and Selected Criticism, 1988 (of Bloom)

Modern British Literature, 1988 (with Kermode)

The Essential Rossetti, 1990

American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, 1993

Animal Poems, 1994

Committed to Memory: One Hundred Best Poems to Memorize, 1996

Garden Poems, 1996

Frost, 1997

The Best American Poetry, 1998, 1998 (with David Lehman)

The Sonnets, 1999 (of William Shakespeare)

Christmas Poems, 1999 (with J. D. McClatchy)

The Mentor Book of Great Poets, 1999

War Poems, 1999

Sonnets, 2001

Words for Images: A Gallery of Poems, 2001 (with Joanna Weber)

Encyclopedia of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, 2001 (with Eric L. Haralson)

American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, 2003


John Hollander is a poet, critic, and editor as well as a university professor (now retired), whose extensive knowledge and use of past literary forms, as well as the extreme difficulty of much of his poetry, distinguishes him from most American poets of his time. He was born to Franklin Hollander, a physiologist, and Muriel (Kornfeld) Hollander in New York, a city that figures prominently in his poetry.{$I[A]Hollander, John}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Hollander, John}{$I[tim]1929;Hollander, John}

John Hollander

(© David Rumsey)

Hollander earned an A.B. in 1950 and a M.A. in 1952 from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1959. He married Anne Loesser in 1953, with whom he had two daughters, Martha and Elizabeth. He joined Harvard University as a junior fellow in 1954, remaining until 1957, when he moved to Connecticut College as a lecturer in English. It was during this period that his first book of poems was published. The famous poet W. H. Auden selected A Crackling of Thorns for publication in the Yale Series of Younger Poets and contributed an introductory essay to the volume. The book immediately established Hollander as an important figure in American poetry.

In 1959, Hollander joined the English department of Yale University, where he would stay until 1966, and to which he would return in 1977 after more than a decade teaching at Hunter College of the City University of New York. During the 1960’s, he published five volumes of poetry, including two–A Book of Various Owls and The Quest of the Gole–for juvenile readers. Also during that decade, he established himself as an important literary critic with The Untuning of the Sky, about the relationship between music and poetry. In addition, he began his career as a prolific editor, teaming with Harold Bloom to edit The Wind and the Rain, a collection of poetry for young readers; with Anthony Hecht, inventing a comic poetic form called the double dactyl and presenting a compendium of the form in Jiggery-Pokery; editing Selected Poems of Ben Jonson, one of the earlier poets most influential in Hollander’s own poetry; and gathering a collection of essays by twentieth century poets and critics for Modern Poetry. His accomplishments earned him a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in 1963.

The most controversial of his volumes from the 1960’s was Types of Shape, twenty-five shaped poems, a genre popular in the seventeenth century in which the typographical shape of the poem represents its subject. Some critics viewed the poems as antiquated and pretentious, while others understood them to reflect Hollander’s concern with genre and desire to use old forms to confront contemporary issues.

Hollander’s many volumes of poetry from the 1970’s on increasingly established him as a respected, although controversial, poet. Eschewing the confessional approach with its highly personal tone, favored by many of his contemporaries, he typically buried his personality within the poems themselves, using his technical mastery of prosody and form to establish emotional control and raise questions, to which the poems usually do not posit definitive answers. His poetry is rich in philosophical and literary allusions and demonstrates his versatility in meter, rhythm, rhyme, genre (or “mode,” a term that he seems to prefer because of its musical association), and allegory.

Many of Hollander’s poems from later decades are both highly unique and difficult to comprehend. They include the collections Reflections on Espionage, a parody of the spy thriller that is also an allegory on contemporary poetry; Spectral Emanations, the title poem of which includes seven color visions taking their cue from a call in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (1860) for a seven-part allegory on the recovery of a sacred lamp stolen from the Second Temple in Jerusalem; In Time and Place, a combination of prose and poetry; and Tesserae, and Other Poems, still demonstrating the technical brilliance and versatility for which Hollander by then had long been known.

Hollander also added to his reputation as critic and editor. In Vision and Resonance, for example, he explored relationships in poetry between sound and syntactic, generic, and visual components. His editorial efforts ranged from collections of essays, such as I. A. Richards: Essays in His Honor to anthologies for college courses (The Oxford Anthology of English Literature and American Poetry) to editions of poems centered on author, theme, or genre (The Essential Rossetti, Animal Poems, Christmas Poems, and Sonnets).

Awards also accumulated. He was named a senior fellow by the National Endowment for the Humanities (1973-1974), received the Levinson Prize given by Poetry magazine (1974), and earned a Guggenheim Fellowship (1979-1980), a Bollingen Prize (1983), the Mina P. Shaughnessy Award (1983), the Melville Cane Award (1990), the Ambassador Book Award (1994), and the Robert Penn Warren-Cleanth Brooks Award (1998). He was appointed a MacArthur Foundation fellow in 1990. Academic recognition at Yale included his appointment as A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor in 1987 and later Sterling Professor of English. Hollander divorced his first wife in 1977 and married Natalie Charkow in 1981. He continued his association with Yale into the twenty-first century, holding the title of Sterling Professor Emeritus of English after retirement.

Although respected as a teacher, critic, and editor, Hollander is most prominent in American letters as a poet. Highly respected and occasionally criticized for his technical brilliance and the heavy demand that his poetry places on readers, he enjoys great respect from other poets. Nonetheless, he is seldom anthologized. The level of difficulty that his poetry poses is surely a major reason for this neglect, a neglect that may seriously undermine his future status as a canonical poet.

BibliographyHoward, Richard. “John Hollander.” In Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950. New York: Atheneum, 1969. Howard offers an intelligent and probing analysis of Hollander’s poetic output through approximately the first half of the 1960’s.McClatchy, J. D. “The Fall Guy.” The New Republic 196 (February 9, 1987): 44-46. A discussion of In Time and Place with an excellent survey of the range of response to Hollander’s books throughout his career. Hollander has been misunderstood or ignored by most critics, according to McClatchy.Martz, Louis L. “Recent Poetry: Mending Broken Connections.” The Yale Review 66, no. 1 (Autumn, 1976): 114-129. The discussion is appreciative of Hollander’s poetic talents, with specific treatment of Reflections on Espionage.Ostriker, Alicia. “Shapes of Poetry.” Partisan Review 44, no. 4 (1977): 632-636. Ostriker presents a brief but valuable discussion of Hollander’s strengths and weaknesses as a critic and prose stylist.Pettingell, Phoebe. “Hollander’s Poetic Playfulness.” The New Leader 82, no. 4 (April 5, 1999): 15-16. Pettingell discusses poet Hollander’s poetic playfulness and how it illuminates the brave pathos of human endeavor.Warren, Rosanna. “Night Thoughts and Figurehead.” Review of Figurehead and Other Poems. Raritan 20, no. 2 (Fall, 2000): 11-24. Warren demonstrates how Figurehead extends and complicates the poetic devices and themes Hollander used in Movie-Going and Other Poems.Wood, Michael. “Calculated Risks.” The New York Review of Books 25 (June 1, 1978): 27-30. A review of Spectral Emanations, arguing that Hollander’s poetry tends toward imitation and artifice without underlying meaning. Although he is extremely talented, says Wood, Hollander’s skills overshadow his actual achievement.
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