Friday, August 15, 2014

The Woman Behind the Poet

My last blog was on the poetry of war.  I didn’t want to leave this topic without drawing your attention to the poems of Karl Shapiro.  Karl Shapiro won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1944 for his “V-letters and Other Poems”.  He sent his work from New Guinea, where he was serving in World War!! as a medic, to his fiancĂ©, Evalyn Katz, who was living in New York City at that time.  Shapiro had published a chap book of his poems and had a few poems published in literary journals, but was not a well-known poet.  He needed an advocate and in Evalyn he had found one.

Evalyn was his persistent, hard working editor, and the catalyst for getting his war poems published. I know from personal experience the determination of Evalyn, Shapiro’s first wife, as I met her many years later and became her close friend. I don’t often name-drop as I have few names to drop, but feel that a shout out to her is deserved as the woman behind the poet. She did the hard work of “pounding the pavement” to advance his reputation.  Karl, of course, did the hard work of writing good poetry.

Karl’s career took off after he returned home from the war.  He taught at Johns Hopkins University, The University of Nebraska, The University of Chicago and the University of California at Davis. He also became the editor of Poetry and Prairie Schooner Magazines. He was appointed as Consultant in Poetry to The Library of Congress (1947-48), a position now known as The Poet Laureate.

Most critics agree Shapiro was a good poet, but his work doesn’t seem to have stayed in the poetic limelight as much as some of his contemporaries. I’m not sure why this is so other than the whims of the poetry gods.  I recommend looking at some of his poems.  “Wild Card”, a collection of his poems with a forward by Stanley Kunitz is a good place to start. It includes many of his war poems.
Karl Shapiro-1913-2000
Evalyn Katz Shapiro 1918-2007