The Frost Medal

Inside Higher Ed reports that some members of the Poetry Society of America are peeved that John Hollander has been awarded the Frost Medal:
Board members of the Poetry Society of America — many of them professors — are quitting and fighting over fallout from the society’s decision to give the Frost Medal, one of its highest honors, to John Hollander, The New York Times reported. A major part of the dispute is the question of whether controversial comments made by Hollander, a professor emeritus of English at Yale University, should be considered when evaluating whether he should receive a poetry award. In a book review, the Times noted, Hollander had referred to “cultures without literatures — West African, Mexican and Central American.” While some board members said the comments mattered, others said they were irrelevant and that plenty of great poetry has been produced by deeply flawed writers, such as the notoriously anti-Semitic Ezra Pound.
I’m not a member of the Poetry Society, but I am a writer, teacher, and editor of poetry. Hollander’s remarks about “cultures without literature” were ill-informed & possibly motivated by Hollander’s reactionary poetics. (I don’t know about his politics in the narrow sense.) If it had been my call, I’d have denied him the award not because of his dumb remarks, which I consider protected speech,  but on the basis of his production a life-time’s worth of mediocre formalist verse.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

6 thoughts on “The Frost Medal”

  1. MAN

    The whole way he presents himself
    is false but you refuse
    to be judgmental rejecting

    except to point out the obvious untruth
    the fulsome falsity of
    such self-terrorizing representations
    in themselves chattering

    on and on like a devil
    about his accomplishments
    just who he hasn’t messed up
    enough yet but will get to

    such a look of certainty
    on his swollen piercing face
    you had his word he’d try.

  2. I was in a graduate class w/Anthony Hecht. There were only six of us, one who thought greasing Hecht’s ego by lauding poets militant in their formalism was the path to an A (and Hecht’s patronage).

    The class focused on five poets: Frost, Eliot, Auden (Hecht’s speciality), Bishop, Wilbur. The student trotted out Hollander, claiming him to be a superior poet to the “overrated Bishop.”

    Hecht took off his glasses, glanced at her and said, Miss Clayton, you may not have just disqualified yourself from a good grade, but if you were thinking of asking me to read your poems I can advise you to think again.”

  3. That is a great anecdote. Eliot, Hecht, & Bishop are fine poets, Eliot probably a great one despite everything. Auden was terrifically important to me when I was young, though I now find a lot of his work brittle. Frost’s sensibility is so different from mine that apart from a few pieces, I just can’t read him. (I don’t claim that as an honor but as a failure.) Wilbur is, I’m told, a very good translator from, as we used to say, “the French.”

  4. I couldn’t read Frost UNTIL Hecht taught me how.

    May I recommend googling up Silken Tent. As close to what I consider a perfect poem that I’ve read.

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