Langdon Hammer

Langdon Hammer's picture
Niel Gray, Jr. Professor of English

Ph.D., English Language and Literature, Yale University
B.A., English Major, summa cum laude, Yale University

I study the cultural history of poetry, its long past and its future.  I am interested in how the poet’s life has been imagined and lived.  I’m concerned with literary biography and literary theory (enemies, in most people’s minds).  I am an archival scholar and a close reader.  I edit texts, and I read letters and diaries.  I look at the poem on the page (or screen) and listen to it in the ear (which involves acoustics, but also what Robert Frost called “the imagining ear”).   My subject is poetics, of all kinds.  I agree with Emily Dickinson: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

My James Merrill: Life and Art, a critical biography, was published by Knopf in April 2015. My work on this book was supported by research fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (2003-04) and the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (2012-13), and by residential fellowships from the James Merrill House (2008) and the Bogliasco Foundation (2009).

While writing James Merrill, I edited two volumes for the Library of America—The Collected Poems of May Swenson (2013), the first collected edition of Swenson’s work, and Hart Crane: Complete Poetry and Selected Letters (2006).  My work on Crane began with Hart Crane and Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism, published by Princeton University Press in 1993.  That book was reviewed in the TLS, made the topic of a review-essay in Modernism/modernity, and named a “Breakthrough Break in Modernism” by Lingua Franca.  In a sequel to it, using correspondence collected by Brom Weber, Crane’s first editor, I introduced, chose, and edited a collection of Crane’s letters called O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1997).  That book was reviewed in the Boston Globe, London Review of Books, Nation, and New York Review of Books.

Since 2004, I’ve been the poetry editor of the American Scholar, where I have written short introductions to the poetry of Adam Fitzgerald, Ansel Elkins, Louise Glück, Peter Cole, J. D. McClatchy, Robin Robertson, Angie Estes, Spencer Reese, Kevin Young, Christian Wiman, John Koethe, Ellen Bryant Voigt, John Ashbery, Eavan Boland, Elizabeth Alexander, Maureen N. McClane, Gary Snyder, Rosanna Warren, Henri Cole, Kay Ryan, John Hollander, Carl Phillips, Heather McHugh, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Andrew Motion, Michael Longley, Thylias Moss, Mary Jo Salter, David Barber, and Charles Simic, among others (

I joined the Yale English Department faculty in 1987.  I was the department chair from 2005 through 2008.  I began a second term as department chair in 2014, and a third term in 2017.

Selected Publications

Essays on modern and contemporary poets

Inside and Underneath Words [on Susan Howe] in New York Review of Books (2017)
Voice and Erasure in Srikanth Reddy’s Voyager in The Fate of Difficulty in the Poetry of Our Time (2017)
Stevens and Modernism in Wallace Stevens in Context (2017)
Plath at War in Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath’s Art of the Visual (2007)
Frank Bidart and the Tone of Contemporary Poetry, Southwest Review (2002)
Plath’s Lives, Representations (2001)
Thom Gunn: The Cool Queer Tales of Cupid, Raritan (2000)
Useless Concentration: Life and Work in Elizabeth Bishop’s Letters and Poems, American Literary History (1996)


Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems by John Ashbery, New York Times Book Review (2008)
Horse Latitudes and The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures by Paul Muldoon, New York Times Book Review (2007)
A Short History of the Shadow by Charles Wright, Los Angeles Times Book Review (2002)
Electric Light by Seamus Heaney, New York Times Book Review (2001)
The Triumph of Love by Geoffrey Hill, New York Times Book Review (1999)

Works in Progress

I’m at work on several books right now.  With J. D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser, I’m editing The Selected Letters of James Merrill for publication by Alfred A. Knopf.  For The Oxford History of Poetry in English, an eighteen-volume work, I am the coordinating editor for three volumes on American Poetry and the volume editor for American Poetry since 1939

And I’ve just begun work on a critical biography of Elizabeth Bishop for FSG.


My courses at Yale include Major English Poets, a seminar on The Life of the Author (for which I’ve taught undergraduate and graduate versions), and the lecture Poetry Since 1950.   My lectures on Modern Poetry were recorded and transcribed in 2007 as a pilot course in Yale’s Open Access Video Project and reviewed in the New York Times (2008) and Chronicle of Higher Education (2012)

Recent graduate courses at Yale have included seminars on the theory of the lyric and research workshops on modern poetry based in Yale’s Beinecke Library.  I’m especially proud of my role as an advisor to graduate students.  I’ve been the dissertation director for more than twenty-five PhD students.  In 2011, I won Yale’s Graduate Student Mentor Award in the Humanities.

I’ve also led numerous seminars on poetry for public school teachers in the Yale New Haven Teachers Institute and the Yale New Haven Teachers Institute National Initiative.  I’ve also taught summer seminars at Breadloaf Santa Fe.