Alfred University News

Emeritus Professor Howard publishes letter in The New Yorker; work included in new literary criticism

Ben Howard
Ben Howard

A letter by Ben Howard, emeritus professor of English at Alfred University, appears in the current (October 19) issue of The New Yorker. Also, a scholarly article by Howard has been included in a new collection of literary criticism published by Clemson University Press.


A letter by Ben Howard, emeritus professor of English at Alfred University, appears in the current (October 19) issue of The New Yorker. Also, a scholarly article by Howard has been included in a new collection of literary criticism published by Clemson University Press.

Howard’s letter in The New Yorker concerns the story “Face Time” (The New Yorker, September 28), by the American writer Lorrie Moore. In this story the narrator’s elderly father, who has contracted COVID-19 and is being treated with hydroxychloroquine, objects to listening to the song “Danny Boy,” claiming that the Irish “stole” the song from the English. As Howard points out, the song has origins in both countries. The melody is from Ireland and was popular both in Derry, Northern Ireland, and on the Beara Peninsula, where it was known as “Maidean i mBéarra” (“A Morning in Beara”). The lyrics, however, were written by Frederic Weatherly, an English lawyer, in 1910. As Howard further notes, Moore’s “deft association” of the father’s “mild conspiracy theory” with hydroxychloroquine, which can cause hallucinations, “marks the story as subtly emblematic of our times.”

In his article published by Clemson University Press, titled “Action and Repose,” Howard explores the influence of the poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins on the work of the American poet Elizabeth Bishop. Although this influence was not unknown, Howard’s article is the first to examine the connection in depth, citing concrete parallels in Bishop’s use of rhyme, rhythm, texture, and meter. The article was first delivered as a lecture at the Kerry International Summer School in Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland in 2006 and subsequently appeared in The Hopkins Quarterly (Summer-Fall, 2006). It has now been collected in The Fire that Breaks: Gerard Manley Hopkins’s Poetic Legacies, edited by Daniel Westover and Thomas Alan Holmes (Clemson University Press, 2020).

Before his retirement in 2006, Howard taught literature, writing, classical guitar, and Buddhist meditation at Alfred University. For the past four decades, he has contributed poems, essays, articles, and reviews to leading journals here and abroad.  He is also the author of 11 books, including six collections of poems, a verse novella, and three collections of essays on Zen practice. His most recent books are Immovable Awareness: The Intimate Practice of Zen (Whitlock, 2016) and Firewood and Ashes: New and Selected Poems (Salmon, 2015). A new collection of poems, entitled The Course of Nature, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2021.