Poets and Pedestrians

Two poets, well versed in the ways of Houston, reflect on the city’s effect on lives and letters.

RICHARD HOWARD AND EDWARD HIRSCH ARE among the most important poets in the country. Both have lived in Houston for about ten years; but, except for six lines in a poem by Howard, no clear mention of Houston or Texas appears in their poetry. In fact they live much more like European intellectuals than it would seem possible in Texas. Since neither their poetry nor their interests derive from Texas, and since Texas seems to go along without thinking much about poets, it’s natural to ask, “What are these guys doing here?”

That was among the questions I asked as the three of us sat talking in Hirsch’s home in Houston. To my surprise the conversation reminded me of conversations with investors and entrepreneurs in the seventies, when Texas was just beginning to boom. Poetry and commerce are suspicious of one another, but they find a home here for the identical reason—opportunity.

Hirsch lives near the Menil Collection in the midst of the community of artists and writers that has made that pleasant neighborhood its own. Richard Howard lives in the same neighborhood. At 66 Howard has a round body and a round face with a light beard. He wears large green eyeglasses. He has published ten books of poetry, one of which won a Pulitzer prize, as well as a volume of criticism, a critical anthology of poetry, and more than 150 translations from the French. His translation of Baudelaire won an American Book Award. He is also an illuminating critic of music and art and the poetry editor of the long-lived and influential literary quarterly The Paris Review. His work has been compared to that of Robert Browning. He uses narrative more than most contemporary poets do, and his poems often take the form of dramatic monologues or letters to and from people real and imagined. But his formidable erudition is generally on display. The letters, for instance, frequently concern incidents in the lives of European artists and intellectuals from decades past.

Physically, Edward Hirsch is as

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