Richard Howard 1929-2022


Théophile Gautier

My God, you’re my age, and look at you, a wreck!
    Lank across the “ruined brow”
and rippling to the ripely crusted collar.
    rusty locks to which no nose
but yours has the key – your cheeks furrow away
  from it as though from a prow
till the rancid wake of your beard rusts out in
   the shallows. You have been had
feature by feature, all fine once, all foul now,
   till only your eyes, sandbagged
against what overflow? Stare from the leavings
  of wine, women and hashish…

If you’re a poet you’ll enjoy yourself and learn a lot from copying Howard’s formal inventiveness.  I wrote one of my best poems using this 11-7-11 syllable pattern that gives the lines a steely spring and drive but still feels conversational. 

Howard specialised in dramatic monologues and imaginary conversations between historical figures, ever encountering the great writers in his imagination, and reawakening them in poems that staged impossible meetings between literary and historical figures, as The Paris Review puts it.

And here’s the man himself,  in the words Craig Morgan Teicher, who knew him well:

Reading was Richard’s primary occupation. His New York apartment was covered in books, floor to ceiling, interrupted only by a desk, a few places to sit, a bed in a book-lined alcove (which was also home to Mildred, Richard’s life-size stuffed gorilla), and the bathroom, adorned with dozens of small portraits of famous writers, glaring at anyone who dared use the toilet. The kitchen was an afterthought—mostly a place to store kibble for Gide, his eccentric French bulldog, since Richard almost always ate out.

4 thoughts on “Richard Howard 1929-2022

  1. Reading him is a cultural history lesson. This poem is taken from a series called “Homage to Nadar”, based on the photos the 19th century photographer took of Sarah Bernhardt, Victor Hugo, Daumier, Offenbach, Rossini. Wagner, Baudelaire and George Sand, among others.

    The whole collection is called “Inner Voices”.

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