Karl Shapiro

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Karl Shapiro
Born (1913-11-10)November 10, 1913
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died May 14, 2000(2000-05-14) (aged 86)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Poet, essayist
Alma mater University of Virginia
Johns Hopkins University
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1945)
Bollingen Prize in Poetry (1969)
Spouse Evalyn Katz (1945–1967)
Teri Kovach (m. 1967)
Sophie Wilkins(m.1990)

Karl Jay Shapiro (10 November 1913 – 14 May 2000) was an American poet. He was appointed the fifth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1946.


Karl Shapiro was born in Baltimore, Maryland and graduated from the Baltimore City College high school. He attended the University of Virginia before World War II, and immortalized it in a scathing poem called "University", which noted that "to hurt the Negro and avoid the Jew is the curriculum". He did not return after his military service.

Shapiro wrote poetry in the Pacific Theater while he served there during World War II. His collection V-Letter and Other Poems,[1] written while Shapiro was stationed in New Guinea, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1945, while Shapiro was still in the military. Shapiro was American Poet Laureate in 1946 and 1947. (At the time this title was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress which was changed by Congress in 1985 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.)[2]

Poems from his earlier books display a mastery of formal verse with a modern sensibility that viewed such topics as automobiles, house flies, and drug stores as worthy of attention. In 1963, the poet/critic Randall Jarrell praised Shapiro's work:

Karl Shapiro's poems are fresh and young and rash and live; their hard clear outlines, their flat bold colors create a world like that of a knowing and skillful neoprimitive painting, without any of the confusion or profundity of atmosphere, of aerial perspective, but with notable visual and satiric force. The poet early perfected a style, derived from Auden but decidedly individual, which he has not developed in later life but has temporarily replaced with the clear Rilke-like rhetoric of his Adam and Eve poems, the frankly Whitmanesque convolutions of his latest work. His best poem--poems like "The Leg", "Waitress", "Scyros", "Going to School", "Cadillac"--have a real precision, a memorable exactness of realization, yet they plainly come out of life's raw hubbub, out of the disgraceful foundations, the exciting and disgraceful surfaces of existence.[3]

In his later work, he experimented with more open forms, beginning with The Bourgeois Poet (1964) and continuing with White-Haired Lover (1968). His interest in formal verse and prosody led to his writing multiple books on the subject including the long poem Essay on Rime (1945), A Bibliography of Modern Prosody (1948), and A Prosody Handbook (with Robert Beum, 1965; reissued 2006). His Selected Poems appeared in 1968. Shapiro also published one novel, Edsel (1971) and a three-volume autobiography titled Poet (1988–1990).[4][5]

Shapiro edited the prestigious magazine, Poetry for several years, and he was a professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he edited Prairie Schooner, and at the University of California, Davis, from which he retired in the mid-1980s. His other works include Person, Place and Thing (1942), (with Ernst Lert) the libretto to Hugo Weisgall's opera The Tenor (1950), To Abolish Children (1968), and The Old Horsefly (1993). Shapiro received the 1969 Bollingen Prize for Poetry, sharing the award that year with John Berryman.[6]

Death and legacy

Shapiro died in New York City, aged 86, on May 14, 2000. More recent editions of his work include The Wild Card: Selected Poems Early and Late (1998) and Selected Poems (2003). His last work, Coda: Last Poems, (2008) was recently published in a volume organized posthumously by editor Robert Phillips. The poems, divided into three sections according to love poems to his last wife, poems concerning roses, and other various poems, were discovered in the drawers of Shapiro's desk by his wife two years after his death.


  • Jeanette S Davis Prize and Levinson prize, both from Poetry in 1942
  • Contemporary Poetry prize, 1943
  • American Academy of Arts and Letters grant, 1944
  • Guggenheim Foundation fellowships, 1944, 1953
  • Pulitzer Prize in poetry, 1945, for V-Letter and Other Poems[1]
  • Shelley Memorial Prize, 1946
  • Poetry Consultant at the Library of Congress (United States Poet Laureate), 1946–47
  • Kenyon School of Letters fellowship, 1956–57
  • Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize, 1961
  • Oscar Blumenthal Prize, Poetry, 1963
  • Bollingen Prize, 1968
  • Robert Kirsch Award, LA Times, 1989
  • Charity Randall Citation, 1990
  • Fellow in American Letters, Library of Congress


Poetry collections

  • Poems (1935)
  • Person, Place, and Thing (1942)
  • The Place of Love (1943)
  • V-Letter and Other Poems (1944)[1]
  • Essay on Rime (1945)
  • Trial of a Poet (1947)
  • Poems of a Jew (1950)
  • Poems 1940-1953 (1953)
  • The Bourgeois Poet (1964)
  • Selected Poems (Random House, 1968)
  • White Haired Lover (1968)
  • Adult Bookstore (1976)
  • Collected Poems, 1940–1978 (1978)
  • New and Selected Poems, 1940–1987 (1988)
  • The Old Horsefly (1993)
  • The Wild Card: Selected Poems, Early and Late (1998)
  • Selected Poems (Library of America, 2003), edited by John Updike
  • Coda: Last Poems (2008)


  • Poet: Volume I: The Younger Son (1988)
  • Reports of My Death (1990)
  • Poet: An Autobiography in Three Parts (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 1988–1990)

Essay collections

  • The Poetry Wreck (1975)
  • To Abolish children and Other Essays (1968)
  • A Primer for Poets (1965)
  • In Defense of Ignorance (1960)
  • Randall Jarrell (1967)
  • Start With the Sun: Studies in the Whitman Tradition, with James E. Miller, Jr., and Bernice Slote (1963)
  • Prose Keys to Modern Poetry (1962)


  • Edsel (1971)

Secondary sources

  • Lee Bartlett, Karl Shapiro: A Descriptive Bibliography 1933-1977 (New York: Garland, 1979)
  • Gail Gloston, Karl Shapiro, Delmore Schwartz, and Randall Jarrell: The Image of the Poet in the Late 1940s (Thesis: Reed College, 1957)
  • Charles F. Madden, Talks With Authors (Carbondale: Southern Illinois U. Press, 1968)
  • Hans Ostrom, "Karl Shapiro 1913-2000" (poem), in The Coast Starlight: Collected Poems 1976-2006 (Indianapolis, 2006)
  • Joseph Reino, Karl Shapiro (New York: Twayne, 1981)
  • Stephen Stepanchev, American Poetry Since 1945: A Critical Survey (1965)
  • Melvin B. Tolson, Harlem Gallery (1965), with an introduction by Karl Shapiro
  • Sue Walker, ed., Seriously Meeting Karl Shapiro (Mobile: Negative Capability Press, 1993)
  • William White, Karl Shapiro: A Bibliography, with a note by Karl Shapiro (Detroit: Wayne State U. Press, 1960)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Shapiro, Karl (1944). V-letter : and other poems. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock. OCLC 21529587.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Scannell, Vernon Not Without Glory Woburn Press, London 1976; ISBN 0713000945
  3. Jarrell, Randall. "Fifty Years of American Poetry." No Other Book: Selected Essays. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
  4. Shapiro, Karl Jay (1971). Edsel. B. Geis Associates. ISBN 9780848806255.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Shapiro, Karl, 1913-2000. (1988–1990). Poet : an autobiography in three parts (1st ed.). Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. ISBN 0-912697-86-5. OCLC 17651234.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Borders, William (1969-01-06). "Berryman and Shapiro Share Award; Bollinger Prize for Poetry Carries a $50,000 Stipend". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-06-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links