Howard Nemerov was an American poet. He was twice appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1963 to 1964, and again from 1988 to 1990. He received the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and Bollingen Prize for The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov. He was brother to photographer Diane Nemerov Arbus and father to art historian Alexander Nemerov, Professor of the History of Art and American Studies at Yale University.
Born on leap day in New York City, his parents were David Nemerov and Gertrude. His younger sister was the photographer Diane Arbus. The elder Nemerov's talents and interests extended to art connoisseurship, painting, philanthropy, and photography — talents and interests undoubtedly influential upon his son. Young Howard was raised in a sophisticated New York City environment where he attended the Society for Ethical Culture's Fieldston School. Graduated in 1937 as an outstanding student and second string team football fullback, he commenced studies at Harvard University where, in 1940, he was Bowdoin Essayist and he received bachelor's degree at this university. Throughout World War II, he served as a pilot, first in the Royal Canadian Air Force and later the U. S. Army Air Forces. He married in 1944, and after the war, having earned the rank of first lieutenant, returned to New York with his wife to complete his first book.
Nemerov then began teaching, first at Hamilton College and later at Bennington College, Brandeis University, and finally Washington University in St. Louis, where he was Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor of English and Distinguished Poet in Residence from 1969 until his death in 1991. Nemerov's numerous collections of poetry include Trying Conclusions: New and Selected Poems, 1961-1991 (University of Chicago Press, 1991); The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (1977), which won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize; The Winter Lightning: Selected Poems (1968); Mirrors and Windows (1958); The Salt Garden (1955); and The Image of the Law (1947). His novels have also been commended; they include The Homecoming Game (1957), Federigo: Or the Power of Love (1954), and The Melodramatists (1949).
Nemerov received many awards and honors, among them fellowships from The Academy of American Poets and The Guggenheim Foundation, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the National Medal of Arts, the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, and the first Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry.
Nemerov served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1963 and 1964, as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets beginning in 1976, and two terms as poet laureate of the United States from 1988 to 1990. In 1990 he was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Nemerov died of cancer in 1991 in University City, Missouri. The Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award was instituted in 1994 to honor him, and by 2008 about 3000 sonnets were entered annually in the associated competition.
Nemerov's work is formalist. He has written almost exclusively in fixed forms and meter. While he is known for his meticulousness and refined technique, his work also has a reputation for being witty and playful. He is compared to John Hollander and Philip Larkin.
"A Primer of the Daily Round" is his most frequently anthologized poem, and highly representative of Nemerov's poetic style. It is an archetypal Elizabethan sonnet, demonstrative of the prosodic creativity for which Nemerov is famous. Another widely appreciated poem is "The War in the Air," which draws on his wartime experience as a pilot.
Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned into pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.
My child and I hold hands on the way to school,
And when I leave him at the first-grade door
After the red leaf and the gold have gone,
Brought down by the wind, then by hammering rain
Bruised and discolored, when October's flame
Goes blue to guttering in the cusp, this land