Remembrance for a poet-scholar

Remembering John Hollander.

Yale University

Yale University

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Poet John Hollander died on August 17 in Branford, Connecticut, at the age of 83. A Sterling Professor Emeritus of English, Hollander won a MacArthur Fellowship in 1990 and the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1983. English professor Langdon Hammer ’80, ’89PhD, offers this remembrance of his former teacher and colleague.

In 1977, I was a Yale sophomore who hoped to take a poetry writing course taught by the poet-scholar John Hollander. I’d submitted a writing sample, and I stopped Mr. Hollander on the stairs of Linsly-Chittenden to find out what he thought. “Yes, you got in,” he teased me. He was telling me not to be too proud of myself: “getting in” wasn’t the end, but the beginning of the work to be done.

John (as I called him when we became colleagues a decade later) had taught at Yale in the 1960s. He was back now as a full professor, and this was his first poetry writing class. He called it “The Writing of Verse”—because verse technique could be taught, as opposed to that numinous thing, “poetry.” But that was a ruse: he showed us that poetry and technique were one, when skill and imagination were combined.

Over the next 25 years, John directed PhD dissertations, taught Renaissance literature and poetics, revived the venerable composition class Daily Themes, and continued to teach The Writing of Verse. Encouraging student writers, he was the heart of the creative writing program at Yale—although he disliked the term “creative writing,” and insisted that creativity, criticism, and scholarship, at their best, were all of a piece, as they were in his case.

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