Over the past decade, poet Jean Hollander and her husband, Dante scholar Robert Hollander, have produced an acclaimed translation of the Divine Comedy, drawing Robert’s scholarship and Jean’s poetic sense. Joan Acocella of The New Yorker called their translation “beautiful…more idiomatic than any other English version I know,” and credited Jean’s ear with allowing the verse to sing. The city of Florence gave her a medal. Knowing that background, it’s hard not to read Jean Hollander’s original poetry in light of Dante. Like the old Florentine, she finds surprising, illuminating correspondences between theology and the particulars of the natural world. Layering up images that are at once soaring and intimate, capacious and humble, she somehow makes transcendent realities recognizably human. Her voice is confident, lucid, and bright, laced with musicality and gentle humor. She invites us to journey with her to new places—and to see old ones as we hadn’t seen them before.
Jean Hollander’s first book of poems, Crushed into Honey, was published by Saturday Press as winner of the Eileen W. Barnes Award. Her second collection, Moondog, was a winner in the QRL Poetry Book Series. Her third book of poems, Organs and Blood, appeared three years ago to high critical praise. Her fourth book, Counterpoint, was recently published as prize winner by Bright Hill Press.
She has won many prizes and honors, among them first prize for a single poem in The Billie Murray Denny Poetry Contest. She has received the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Award three times and various grants and fellowships.
She has published over three hundred poems in hundreds of magazines and literary journals, like Sewanee Review, Poetry Review, Poet Magazine, Texas Quarterly, as well as in Best Poem Anthologies and other collections.
Her verse translation of Dante’s Commedia (with Robert Hollander, a Dante Scholar) was published by Doubleday to enthusiastic reviews in the New Yorker, New York Review of Books, Publisher’s Weekly, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and many other newspapers and magazines. She was awarded the Gold Medal for Dante Translation from the City of Florence a few months ago.
She has taught literature and writing at Princeton University, Brooklyn College, Columbia University, where she did her graduate work, and The College of New Jersey, where she was director of Writers Conferences for twenty-three years.
Having my book of poems Torn Love accepted for publication a few days ago and a chapbook published a few months ago, I feel I must write a great many new poems to fill my empty granary. However, although I recommend a daily scheduled time for poetry writing to my students, I have never adhered to one. I write when I feel strongly about something: a childhood memory suddenly recalled, a dream that awakens terror or regret, a piece of music that calls up joy or sadness, a white moon that rises from the east larger than the sun, or the first blue periwinkle flowers that appear out of earth still littered with snow. At other times, when there is no new inspiration, but I still feel the need to write, I leaf through piles of poems begun years ago but never finished. Then a few lines here or there will arouse other thoughts and images and the words I failed to summon the previous time will suddenly appear and express what I could not say before. And so today and tomorrow and the days after, I shall continue working with poetry– reading, teaching, and writing poems—not only because I love to see words say and mean more than their dictionary definitions, but, above all, as many have insisted before, I shall write poems because I cannot help it.
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