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.
Inside Higher Ed reports that some members of the Poetry Society of America are peeved that John Hollander has been awarded the Frost Medal: