Poetry worth reading: Richard Wilbur

No one reads poetry anymore; this is more or less uncontested.

We shouldn’t be surprised. During the mid-twentieth century, a group of influential poets and academics decided that poetry, in order to be “good”, had to be inaccessible to the mass-market reader. (Read Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” for an example of what I mean; and it gets worse from there.)

As a result, poetry gradually became a cloistered, onanistic activity for literary types.

I certainly would not recommend much of the poetry published in recent decades. But there is a notable exception: the poetry of Richard Wilbur (1921-2017).

Wilbur wrote in a modern style, but he didn’t go out of his way to be avant-garde or inaccessible.

He also wrote about modern subject matter. There are no odes to Grecian urns among his work.

(Consider one of his best-loved poems, “On the Eyes of an SS Officer”.)

A personal note: I met Richard Wilbur–very briefly– in 1987, when he gave a reading at Northern Kentucky University, where I was a student at the time.

He was a gracious man, and I enjoyed his reading. I still enjoy reading his poems from time-to-time.