Read Me to Sleep, Ricky

School Days, a poem by Richard Howard

December 23, 2022 Rick Whitaker Season 2 Episode 16
Read Me to Sleep, Ricky
School Days, a poem by Richard Howard
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Show Notes

"School Days" is from Richard Howard's 2008 collection of poetry Without Saying.

A distinguished poet, critic and translator, Richard Howard held a unique place in contemporary American letters. Howard was credited with introducing modern French fiction—particularly examples of the Nouveau Roman—to the American public; his translation of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (1984) won a National Book Award in 1984. A selection of Howard’s critical prose was collected in the volume Paper Trail: Selected Prose 1965-2003, and his collection of essays Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States since 1950 (1969) was praised as one of the first comprehensive overviews of American poetry from the latter half of the 20th century. First and foremost a poet, Howard’s many volumes of verse also received widespread acclaim; he won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his collection Untitled Subjects. His other honors included the American Book Award, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the PEN Translation Medal, the Levinson Prize, and the Ordre National du Mérite from the French government. For many years, Howard was the poetry editor of the Paris Review.

Known for his erudition and interest in the nature of artistic expression, Howard’s poems are often dramatic monologues in which figures from history and literature speak directly to the reader. From Howard’s first book, Quantities (1962), his approach to the dramatic monologue set him apart as a unique practitioner of contemporary poetry. Using voices from characters as disparate as Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Henry James, and Orpheus among others, Howard’s narrative monologues are darkly comic, laced with irony and sadness, and distinctly learned. Early books such as The Damages (1967) and Untitled Subjects (1969) saw Howard honing his skill with a wide range of subjects and voices. Frequently addressing the incommensurability of word and world, Barbara Fischer asserted in her review of Talking Cures (2003) that “in [Howard’s] work’s insistent writtenness and its collages of polyvocal quotation he reminds us that the immediacy of contact—vocal, erotic, somatic, sensory contact—is out of reach as soon as we write about it.”

Howard’s work in the 1970s and ’80s continued to explore the use of monologue, dialogue, and other forms of the speaking voice in his poetry. In Two-Part Inventions (1974) and Fellow Feelings (1976), he creates imaginary conversations between historical persons, uncovering shared assumptions and emotions between himself and such writers as Walt Whitman and Charles Baudelaire. The poems of Misgivings (1979) are all addressed to the subjects of 19th-century photographic portraits, while those of Lining Up (1984) are the voices of artists and musicians. Speaking to Allen Wiggins of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Howard explained that in his poems he tries to get “out of the way of voices, letting the voices speak through me and for me, and I have discovered that my own experience can be represented much better than it can be presented.” With his 10th book of poetry, Like Most Revelations (1994), Howard inhabits the voices of Edith Wharton and Walt Whitman, but he also offers elegies for friends who have d

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Read Me to Sleep, Ricky is hosted by Rick Whitaker and produced in New York City.