Just when I was thinking of Howard Nemerov, whom I met at the Sewanee Writers Conference now more than 20 years ago, Garrison Keillor offers Howard's poem "Monet" on his Writers' Almanac.
The poem, with its long languorous iambic pentameter, reminds me of Howard, the scourge of loose lines and rashly chosen metaphors. Howard liked some of the young poets' work he saw at Sewanee, but was needlessly cruel to most others. The old curmudgeon liked Larkin, but most poetry after 1950 made him shudder.
I liked the old boy myself, probably because he never saw any of my fledging work to blast with his critical shotgun. What a sight he was walking around campus like a large strange bird, with short shorts, yellow socks, sandals, and a windbreaker. His gray hair remained lush, and he had a large patrician's beak. As he meandered around, led by a comely young girl, he seemed to hear a distant music. The poor man was dying of cancer, and the next year John Hollander filled in for him.
"Monet" doesn't strike me as one of Howard's best poems, but it's representative of his work. He overuses adjectives to fill out the lines, and the poem's point is really pretty banal. The implied message is that even Monet was a bit too radical for his tastes. The descriptive language reflects a skill that few if any could match today, and those who knew Howard can only smile at the implication that he the poet is as good as Monet at rendering nature.
Unable to get into the Monet show,
Too many people there, too many cars,
We spent the Sunday morning at Bowl Pond
A mile from the Museum, where no one was,
And walked an hour or so around the rim
Beside five acres of flowering waterlilies
Lifting three feet above their floating pads
Huge yellow flowers heavy on bending stems
In various phases of array and disarray
Of Petals packed, unfolded, opening to show
The meaty orange centers that become,
When the ruined flags fall away, green shower heads
Spilling their wealth of seed at summer’s end
Into the filthy water among small fish
Mud-colored and duck moving explorative
Through jungle pathways opened among the fronds
Upon whose surface water drops behave
Like mercury, collecting in heavy silver coins
Instead of bubbles; some few redwinged blackbirds
Whistling above all this once in a while,
The silence else unbroken all about.