Howard Nemerov and The Formalist

In 1978, Howard Nemerov's Collected Poems won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. At that time, I was very fortunate to be studying under the direction of James Dickey at the University of South Carolina. Mr. Dickey, in his excellent poetry workshop, not only encouraged, but actually required, writing in metrical forms, and he also strongly endorsed my plan to study with Howard Nemerov that summer at Bread Loaf. Everything worked out, and I was able to go to Vermont and spend several weeks in Howard Nemerov's workshop.

It was clear to everyone at the writers' conference that Mr. Nemerov held opinions about prosody that were considered by many to be unfashionable, but he held to his beliefs with a quiet conviction and without any sense of capitulation. In his personal manner with his students, he was very direct, always marvelously witty, and also generous and good-natured. As for his evaluation of student work, he was equally blunt and perceptive, and he always made the student seriously confront and reconsider the failings in his work.

It was around this time that I began to conceive of a journal which would encourage the reading and writing of metrical verse and also provide a forum for those writers who could not find contemporary markets for their work. But it was not until 1989, over ten years later, that I was finally ready to begin soliciting poetry for the journal. I had recently seen Mr. Nemerov in Los Angeles after a reading he gave at California State University, and when I wrote my very first letter of solicitation for the journal, I wrote to Howard Nemerov. He soon responded with two excellent poems, "The Amateurs of Heaven" and "A Keepsake for the Kids", and the former poem became the first poem in our first issue in 1990.

A year later, Mr. Nemerov generously agreed to further support the journal by serving as our Advisory Editor. His primary advice was to search for poems which displayed careful craftsmanship but which also remained contemporary in diction. He wrote that the "return to formal poetry ought not to bring with it a return to all that poetic diction which characterized what modern poetry was really trying to get rid of much more than versification." It was, of course, excellent advice, and we have tried to follow it carefully.

Everyone who truly values the art of poetry will greatly miss the deep insight, generosity, and enormous poetic talents of Howard Nemerov. At this journal, in all sincerity, we honor his memory and wish him peaceful rest.

-- William Baer

(The Formalist, Volume 3, Issue 1, 1992)

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