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John Ciardi was born in 1916 in Boston, Massachusetts, and was the child of Italian immigrants. He attended Bates College and Tufts College (now University) and received his master's degree from the University of Michigan in 1939. He was the author of more than forty volumes of poetry, among them The Collected Poems of John Ciardi (University of Arkansas Press, 1997), The Birds of Pompeii (1985), The Little That Is All (1974), Person to Person (1964), and Other Skies (1947). Ciardi is perhaps best known for How Does a Poem Mean? (1959), which became a standard text for college and high school poetry courses. He also wrote an acclaimed translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, was a regular commentator on National Public Radio, and served as editor of Saturday Review for many years. He began his career teaching English at the University of Kansas City, and, after serving a three-year term in the Air Force, went on to teach at Harvard University in 1946. He remained at Harvard as the Briggs-Copeland Instructor in English until 1953, when he accepted a position at Rutgers University. In 1961, Ciardi broke with the educational establishment to devote himself to his own literary endeavors, although he remained an active and visible member of the academic community through lectures, poetry readings, and appearances on educational television. He began writing children's poetry as a way of getting his own children interested in reading. These works, especially I Met a Man Who Sang the Sillies (1961), became tremendously popular. Ciardi was a vocal proponent of exposing poetry to mass audiences, and he made a conscientious effort to address the average reader through much of his work without sacrificing complexity or formal intricacy. His verse, which often eschewed contemporary poetic trends and the "elevated" themes Ciardi associated with romantic and sentimental sensibilities, gained a large public following. Ciardi's awards and honors include a grant from The Fund for the Advancement of Education and the Prix de Rome from The American Academy of Arts and Letters. He died of a heart attack in 1986 in Edison, New Jersey, but not before composing his own epitaph: "Here, time concurring (and it does); / Lies Ciardi. If no kingdom come, / A kingdom was. Such as it was / This one beside it is a slum."
Vince Clemente stated: "Paumanok, aboriginal name for Long Island...is indeed poets' country. Walt Whitman was born here in 1819 at West Hills. His ancestral home still stands; I serve as a trustee of his birthplace and worked at the very desk he used when he taught at Woodbury, Long Island, as a nineteen year old schoolmaster. Whitman was my first poet; I began reading Leaves of Grass at fifteen, walking under the New Utrecht El in Brooklyn, New York. He remains for me an abiding presence, a `gauge and tally' of my poems.
"As a Long Island poet-editor-critic, I carried these voices with me--these, my good ghosts, who have taught me that Paumanok is indeed a sacramental universe. As Mount culled his pigments from his native Setauket-Stony Brook sandstone, I culled my poet's music from these voices out of the past--out there, beyond the fog banks.
"Finally, John Ciardi, the hero of my manhood, remains the father of my spirit. He was also a cherished friend. My book John Ciardi: Measure of the Man is payment of a debt long sustained. Ciardi taught me the holy calling of the writer's vocation, that `clean white paper, waiting under a pen/ Is a gift beyond history, and hurt, and heaven.' I will continue to write about the man and his legacy as long as I live."
John Ciardi: Measure of the Man is payment of a debt long sustained. Ciardi taught me the holy calling of the writer's vocation, that clean white paper, waiting under a pen/ Is a gift beyond history, and hurt, and heaven.' I will continue to write about the man and his legacy as long as I live."
Professor Clemente's writings include:
Folder 1: Photographs
Folder 2: Memorial Program
Folder 3: Clippings
Folder 4: Flyer
Folder 5: Broadside
Folder 6: Hand-drawn Map
Folder 7: Exhibit Program
Folder 8: Program
Folder 9: Manuscript by Vince Clemente
Folder 10: Article by Vince Clemente
Note: The books listed below have been cataloged and are shelved in Special Collections.
Vince Clemente. John Ciardi: Measure of the Man (University of Arkansas Press, 1987).
First hardbound copy, with notes about the creation of the book, by Vince Clemente,
as well as essays signed by the following writers: Vince Clemente, XJ Kennedy, Richard
Elman, William Heyen, Norbert Krapf, and John Tagliabue.
John Frederick Nims. Knowledge of the Evening (Rutgers University Press, 1960). This
volume belonged to John Ciardi, and includes Ciardi's signature as well as his annotated
notes while reading the volume. Included is a December 1994 note from J.F. Nims to
Vince Clemente about the text: "A book signed by J. Ciardi deserved better than ending
up in the Strand."
John Holmes. Map of My Country (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943). Inscribed by Holmes
to Dorothy Wyman. John Holmes was Ciardi's teacer-mentor-friend at Tufts; appears
in John Ciardi: Measure of the Man; Ciardi's Selected Poems (University of Arkansas
Press, 1984) is "for John Holmes and Roy W. Cowden, in loving gratitude."