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Audio Interview with John Hollander on Good and Bad Poetry

Born in 1929 in New York, educated at Columbia, John Hollander is a poet and literary critic. He has written more than a dozen books of poetry, and seven books of criticism, including Rhyme’s Reason of which Harold Bloom said: “[it is] on all questions of schemes, patterns, forms, meters, rhymes of poetry in English, the indispensible authority…” and why I was so keen to interview him. According to New York Times, Hollander stresses the importance of hearing poems out loud: “A good poem satisfies the ear. It creates a story or picture that grabs you, informs you and entertains you.”

His honors include the Bollingen Prize, the Levinson Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets he is the current poet laureate of Connecticut, and has taught at many different universities, including Yale.

We met recently at the Philadelphia Book Festival. I spend most of this interview relentlessly and unsuccessfully trying to badger him into identifying, comparing and describing the differences between great and bad poems. To name names. We do get to some of the great (Rosanna Warren, Shakespeare, Browning, Swinburne, Rossetti, for example) but he will not go anywhere near the bad. Toward the end, clearly tired from the day’s activities and my uncalled for bullying, he reads a beautifully funny and thoughtful poem, based on a quote taken from Boswell’s Life of Johnson, found in his most recent collection, A draft of Light.

Please listen here:

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2 Responses to “Audio Interview with John Hollander on Good and Bad Poetry”

  1. Lya Says:

    I enjoyed this very much, thanks. It was enlightening to hear what constitutes great poetry, especially coming from John Hollander, whose work on Echo I am currently using as a major reference for my dissertation. My field is clinical psychology and I am writing about Echo from an archetypal perspective. I find it amazing and sad that the best work I can find on Echo does not come from my own field; however, the research has taken me on a most wondrous journey! In researching Echo through the field of literary criticism, I have come to appreciate her influence in psychology all the more.

  2. Bart Caponi Says:

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