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Becoming a scholar of English


War poet
Richard Wilbur Poet
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In my work as a cryptographer, I sometimes worked on secret machines in the cellars of buildings, sometimes in a six-by-six truck, under all sorts of circumstances I set up my shop. The fact that I was working with machines made it possible for me when I was not handling and breaking code messages, to type up the poems I was writing on our secret machines. I never thought much about sending my poems to magazines. I believe that a poem of mine called Potato was gently refused by the magazine Horizon in England. Another poem of mine, which I had sent to my wife on a V mail, was printed in The Saturday Evening Post because a good friend of my wife's was an editor there, but I really didn't think of, of publication. I sent my poems to Armour Craig or Theodore Baird, my former teachers at Amherst, I sent them to my wife and my family, my friends, but I did not figure in my own mind as a poet. Of course I was very interested in poetry throughout the War, so interested that I threw away my gas mask and used the space reserved for the gas mask for transporting a volume of Gerard Manley Hopkins and a number of paperbacks from New Directions. I did a great deal of poetry reading during the entire stretch of my army experience, not because I was goofing off, but because as Evelyn Waugh once said, 'War is mostly waiting around'. Even if you are at the front, most of the time you have leisure to understand Edgar Allan Poe.

Acclaimed US poet Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) published many books and was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He was less well known for creating a musical version of Voltaire's “Candide” with Bernstein and Hellman which is still produced throughout the world today.

Listeners: David Sofield

David Sofield is the Samuel Williston Professor of English at Amherst College, where he has taught the reading and writing of poetry since 1965. He is the co-editor and a contributor to Under Criticism (1998) and the author of a book of poems, Light Disguise (2003).

Tags: Horizon, England, The Saturday Evening Post, Amherst, New Directions, Armour Craig, Theodore Baird, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Evelyn Waugh, Edgar Allan Poe

Duration: 2 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008