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Poets who inspire me


Favorite poets: Robert Frost and Elzabeth Bishop
Richard Wilbur Poet
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[Q] Since you've been writing poems since the mid 1940s, would you be willing to name a single book by another poet that has meant the most to you?

That's very tough. I know there must be such a book, but perhaps it is that I've skipped from book to book in time, and that I sometimes transfer my allegiance from one to the other. I remember John Holmes saying that Robert Graves' poems for him were a great starter, by which he meant that they made him want to write poems. They reminded him of what charm and energy poetry could have, and set him to writing again, and I think that there was a time when some volume or other of Robert Graves' performed that function for me. Obviously Robert Frost has performed that function at one time or another in my life.

[Q] Has Elizabeth Bishop?

Elizabeth Bishop, I'm glad... yes, Elizabeth Bishop was a great refreshment and inspiration to me the first time I read her. I read her at a time... and most people nowadays won't believe this, but I read that at a time when she was relatively obscure, when people did not rank her among the heavy hitters of poetry, but she had her passionate devotees from the beginning. I remember that Howard Moss, a very good poet and the poetry editor of The New Yorker urged me strongly to read this or that poem of Elizabeth Bishops, and I was glad to be steered to things like her wonderful poem, Anaphora. And yes, I think that she does not stale. I think that I go back to her again and again, as to something that's honest and artful, and full of reality.

[Q] And in which the ego is not on...

The ego is not on display, no. A very, a very modest poet who extends her sympathies to all sorts of things in her verse, but not much to herself. I remember talking with Elizabeth once about her poetry and she said, shaking her head, 'It's all description, no philosophy'. But of course there's... she may not have an organised philosophy in her poems, and I'm not sorry she doesn't, but her extension of sympathy, a kind of - as Cal Lowell said - a kind of sorrowing sympathy to the world around, amounts to something better than a philosophy.

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: The New Yorker, Anaphora, Robert Graves, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Howard Moss, Cal Lowell

Duration: 4 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008