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Moss, Howard (1922-1987)  
page: 1  2  

While primarily recognized as a poet, Moss also enjoyed a reputation as a literary critic and essayist, and although homosexuality is largely absent as an explicit subject in his poetry, it is a major concern in many of his essays. His first book of criticism, The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust (1962), is an astute and perceptive study of the gay French novelist.

Moss also published three collections of his critical writings, many of which first appeared in the New Yorker, including Writing Against Time: Critical Essays and Reviews (1969), Whatever is Moving (1981), and Minor Monuments: Selected Essays (1986).

In his 1981 collection of essays, Whatever is Moving, Moss confronts homosexuality in the works of Walt Whitman, C.P. Cavafy, and James Schuyler.

Moss contends that homosexuality informed Whitman's "most intense emotional affairs" and provided Cavafy with "built-in advantages as a spokesman for the city" of Alexandria, since as a gay man, he got to know it "in ways most people don't--strange places at strange hours." As for Schuyler, Moss admired his sexual frankness, remarking "He is in touch with parts of himself not usually available for examination and not often handled by most writers." Moss points out for particular attention Schuyler's sixty-page "The Morning of the Poem" (1980) and its rendering of the "men Schuyler has been attracted to, described lovingly."

Additionally, Moss wrote essays on such significant glbtq writers as W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Elizabeth Bowen, and Katherine Mansfield.

Moss is also the author of four plays: The Folding Green (1954), Garden Music (1966), The Oedipus Mah-Jong Scandal (1968), and The Palace at 4 A.M. (1972), a poetic reinterpretation of the Oedipus myth.

In addition to Vassar College, Moss taught at several other academic institutions, including Washington University (1972), Barnard College (1976), Columbia University (1977), University of California, Irvine (1979), and the University of Houston (1980).

Moss died of cardiac arrest on September 16, 1987.

While he received accolades from critics and peers, as well as several prestigious awards, Moss's skills and artistry as a poet went largely underappreciated by the general public during his lifetime; he never achieved the fame or wide readership that many cultural commentators felt he deserved.

"Partly as a consequence of [his role at the New Yorker] his own talent has been underrated," suggests the critic David Ray. "Yet he has with consistent productivity . . . turned out volume after volume and has dutifully and with impressive scholarship written criticism. He is, in short, an American man-of-letters in a sense largely missing from our literary culture."

Bruce Bawer, the gay essayist and poet, echoed such sentiments in his tribute to Moss published in the New Criterion, noting that "the grace, refinement, and deep humanity of [Moss's] poetry will continue to draw readers to him when many of the more celebrated poets of our day are forgotten."

Craig Kaczorowski

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literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Although largely invisible to the general public, a large body of twentieth-century gay male literature by American authors was published prior to Stonewall, some of it positive but most of it tinged with misery or bleakness as the price of being published and disseminated.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall

After Stonewall, gay male literature became focused as a movement, aided by the development of gay newspapers, magazines, and quarterlies and the founding of serious gay and lesbian bookstores.

literature >> Overview:  Awards

The contemporary literary awards given specifically to honor glbtq books may be seen as an outgrowth of the modern American gay rights movement, so intertwined are they with the movement for equality.

literature >> Overview:  Elegy

A poetic response to the death of a greatly loved person, the elegy has had since classical times a homoerotic component.

literature >> Overview:  Poetry: Gay Male

The gay tradition in literature from ancient times to the present is primarily a tradition not of prose but of verse.

literature >> Auden, W. H.

One of the most accomplished poets of the twentieth century, W. H. Auden found that his gayness led him to new insights into the universal impulse to love and enlarged his understanding of all kinds of relationships.

literature >> Bishop, Elizabeth

Widely acknowledged as one of the finest twentieth-century American poets, Elizabeth Bishop encoded a lesbian identity in her poems.

literature >> Bowen, Elizabeth

Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer Elizabeth Bowen sprinkled her fiction with people and relationships, usually coded, of either clear or ambiguous homosexuality.

literature >> Cavafy, C. P.

Alexandrian Greek poet C. P. Cavafy has written some of the greatest homoerotic poems of all time.

literature >> Hine, Daryl

The Canadian-American poet Daryl Hine was a leader in giving serious homosexual poetry a place in the mainstream of American poetry.

literature >> Howard, Richard

Richard Howard's searching and witty poetry, in which homosexuality is not a problem but a solution, is a significant contribution to the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

literature >> Mansfield, Katherine

Though Katherine Mansfield was reticent in the depiction of lesbianism in her short stories, she had close female friendships and was always deeply concerned with the status of women.

literature >> McClatchy, J.D.

Poet J. D. McClatchy, Jr., a master of traditional poetic forms, most notably the sonnet and sonnet sequence, ranks as a significant voice in contemporary American letters.

literature >> Proust, Marcel

Marcel Proust is the author of A la recherche du temps perdu, one of the major achievements of Modernism and a great gay novel.

literature >> Schuyler, James

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Schuyler, a prominent member of the New York School of poets and painters, wrote openly about his homosexuality.

literature >> Whitman, Walt

Celebrating an ideal of manly love in both its spiritual and physical aspects, Walt Whitman has exerted a profound and enduring influence on gay literature.


Bawer, Bruce. "The Passing of an Elegist." The New Criterion (November 1987): 35-37.

Gioia, Dana. "The Difficult Case of Howard Moss." The Antioch Review (Winter 1987): 98-109.

Lieberman, Laurence. Unassigned Frequencies: American Poetry in Review, 1964-1977. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

McClatchy, J.D. "The Lenore Marshall Prize." The Nation (October 25, 1986): 412-14.

Pritchard, William. "On Poets, Poetry and the Writing of Fiction." New York Times Book Review (December 20, 1981): 27.

Vendler, Helen. "Poet of Silence, Poet of Talk." New York Times Book Review (April 18, 1976): 15.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kaczorowski, Craig  
    Entry Title: Moss, Howard  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2009  
    Date Last Updated April 20, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2009 glbtq, Inc.  


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