On this day in 1923, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Louis Simpson is born in Jamaica, West Indies.
Simpson, of Scottish and Russian descent, was the son of a lawyer. He emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 17 and began studying at Columbia University in New York City. However, World War II interrupted his studies. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945, in France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany. After the war, he studied and lived in Paris.
Simpson published his first collection of poetry, The Arrivistes: Poems, 1940-1949, in 1949, while living in France. His early work followed conventional poetic forms, relying on traditional rhyme and meter. However, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, while working as a book editor in New York and pursuing a Ph.D. at Columbia, Simpson began experimenting with free verse. Influenced by the works of Walt Whitman, Simpson embraced the belief that poetry should reflect the poet’s inner life and should be expressed in a natural and spontaneous format instead of adhering to conventional structure. His 1963 collection, At The End of the Open Road, Poems, reflected his new aesthetic, and won him the Pulitzer Prize for poetry that year.
Simpson also published several acclaimed critical studies of poets, including Three on the Tower (1975), a study of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams, and A Revolution in Taste: Studies of Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell (1978). Simpson published 17 poetry collections and won numerous prestigious awards including the Prix de Rome and the Columbia Medal for Excellence. He died on September 14, 2012 at his home in Stony Brook, New York. He was 89.