I am lucky to have a number of memories of Richard Wilbur, who died on October 14. The first time I heard him read was in the mid-90s. I was working then as a secretary for a professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, hoping, I suppose, to keep some connection to academia and a library while working on my own writing. An obvious advantage was attending events in the English department when celebrated writers swanned through town. Only dimly aware of Richard Wilbur at this time, I probably first encountered his poem “Juggler” from an English department flier Scotch-taped onto the library’s glass door. No doubt I did not fully appreciate the elegance and sprezzatura of this poem-performance—its stanzas of patterned line lengths and pure and off rhymes, the philosophical conceit, its mix of elaborate syntax and everyday statement, its precise etymological use of “resilience”—literally to bounce back—jostling with one-syllable exclamations like “whee” and even “damn.” Possibly, I thought, with the innocent bravado that is somewhat necessary in a young poet, I can do that too. Wilbur had a way of keeping all the balls in the air, winking at difficulty while making the performance seem effortless. Yet nothing is glib—even clapping becomes strange, clumsy in view of the juggler’s (and the poet’s) legerdemain—a battering of hands.
Continue reading over at the American Scholar.