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Writing for the theater


The effect of fiction on my work
Richard Wilbur Poet
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[Q] Has reading fiction in your time had an effect on your writing, on your thinking about writing?

I think it must have because... I think fiction must have affected me often in one way or another. I remember that when I was writing my first adolescent efforts I found the prose of James Agee in his Let Us Now Praise Famous Men very contagious, as contagious as the Hart Crane I was then reading. I'm not sure what other writers I could come up with right now. Saul Bellow writes the kind of prose that a poet delights to read. Well, many people delight to read Saul Bellow, but the special thing about him is that he writes with all his languages at once. He writes like someone who knows his Nietzsche and who knows his Church Fathers, someone who has taught seminars in the classics. At the same time, he writes like somebody who knows how to talk to just anybody on the streets of Chicago. I think of poetry as an effort to express, to find words for everything that you perceive, everything that's in your experience, and also to give voice to your various selves, to let them all talk at once, if you possibly can, and Bellow is the kind of writer of prose, who inclines you to try to do that in poetry. There must be other fiction writers I could think of, but I don't think of them just now. Mostly, I think I am moved by either actual situations or by the poems of others.

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: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Chicago, James Agee, Hart Crane, Saul Bellow, Friedrich Nietzsche

Duration: 2 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008