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Reed Whittemore ’41: A poet of the prosaic passes.

A famous poet you may have never heard of died last week.

Reed Whittemore ’41—twice poet laureate of the United States—passed away on April 6 at age 92. Known for short poems that were widely anthologized, he was also a college professor, essayist, and literary biographer.

Born in New Haven to a Yale alumnus, educated at Andover and then Yale College, Whittemore epitomized the Yankee WASP elite. Yet his poetry was noted for its accessible, conversational tone and whimsical wit.

As a 20-year-old Yale sophomore, Whittemore helped found a literary magazine, Furioso, “and used his persistence to lure contributions from established Modernist poets including Archibald Macleish, Ezra Pound, e.e. cummings and William Carlos Williams,” the Washington Post recounts.

His roommate and magazine cofounder was James Angleton, whose family connections came in handy, according to the Post obituary: “‘When we were short of money, which was most of the time,’ Mr. Whittemore later told Time magazine, ‘we paid off our poets with fine Italian cravats from the stock that the Angleton haberdasher in Italy kept replenishing.’”

But while his literary coconspirator pursued a career under cover of darkness—becoming a CIA counterintelligence chief and the basis for the 2006 movie The Good Shepherd—Whittemore preferred to remain in the light:

“The properties of mind I most admire are the daytime properties—those that get us to the store or shop and back, and put us on the radio discussing poetry or arguing about communism and democracy,” he once wrote. “Most of my poems, therefore, tend to deal primarily with the daytime part of the mind, that is, the prosaic part; only occasionally do they deal directly with the nighttime self.”

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