Whether he is creating present-day incarnations of Greek mythology, the protestations of a fifth-grade class, or the epistolary conversations between the families of Henry James and L. Frank Baum, Richard Howard’s poems show a delight in language, imagination, and literary history. A finalist for the National Book Award, Without Saying is a captivating and witty addition to his oeuvre. The poems beg to be read aloud as the dramatic works that they are. Howard’s characters’ humor belies their depth, and grains of wisdom appear when least expected, as in "Only Different," when we hear from Henry James, "How inescapably we learn we are / never the same as we always were." Or in "Ediya, an interview": "…Old age / has only one lesson to teach about life, / one secret: life is an erotics of absence." Howard has published seventeen books of poems, not including translations, in a career that stretches back to the early sixties. Without Saying is a fine showing from a titan of American letters.
This book review originally appeared in American Poet, 2009.