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This interview is taken from PN Review 55, Volume 13 Number 5, May - June 1987.

in conversation with Richard Wilbur J.D. McClatchy

Richard Wilbur turned sixty-five earlier this year, and can look back now on a remarkable career - the books of poems and translations, which have won him all the honours and applause they could; his work as essayist, editor, and teacher; his place in American literary culture.

Speaking for myself, I'd want first to note how exactly Marianne Moore might have been describing Wilbur's poetry - though she wasn't - when she revealed her three standards for art, poem or painting. They were
humility, with which the poet arms himself against any flashy idea of being original. Concentration, which is a precise, persuasive ordering. And gusto, by which she meant poetry's heightened natural force, which, she said, 'thrives on freedom, and freedom in art, as in life, is the result of a discipline imposed by ourselves'.

One discipline his readers most often cite - or rather, one aspect of the discipline Wilbur has imposed - is his formal elegance, those ravishingly complex schemes and sentences, the elevated diction, the suavely serious tone, still present even in the more relaxed or diffident manner his style has assumed in some of his more recent work. (There
is recent work, though it's been over a decade since his last collection of poems.) The mistake would be to think that this is easy, or is used to make things look easy. An essay he wrote forty years ago remains the most eloquent commentary of this subject. His metaphor is ...


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