Richard Wilbur, poet laureate and Pulitzer winner, dies at 96

BOSTON (NYTimes) - Richard Wilbur, whose meticulous, urbane poems earned him two Pulitzer Prizes and selection as the national poet laureate, died on Saturday in Belmont, Massachusetts. He was 96.

Across more than 60 years as an acclaimed American poet, he followed a muse who prized traditional virtuosity over self-dramatisation.

As a consequence, he often found himself out of favour with the literary authorities who preferred the heat of artists like Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsburg.

He received his first Pulitzer in 1957, and a National Book Award as well, for Things Of This World.

The collection included A Baroque Wall-Fountain In The Villa Sciarra, which the poet and critic Randall Jarrell called "one of the most marvellously beautiful, one of the most nearly perfect poems any American has written".

By the early 1960s, however, critical opinion generally conformed to Jarrell's oft-quoted assessment that Wilbur "never goes too far, but he never goes far enough".

Typical of complaints in this vein was a review by Herbert Leibowitz of Wilbur's collection The Mind-Reader in The New York Times of June 13, 1976: "While we acknowledge his erudition and urbanity, we regretfully liken his mildness to the amiable normality of the bourgeois citizen."


PHOTO: POETS.ORG

But there were many on the other side who objected to the notion that Wilbur's poems were somehow unimportant because they were pretty.

Wilbur sailed on regardless of which way the wind blew. He won a second Pulitzer in 1988, for New And Collected Poems; became the second poet laureate of the United States, succeeding Robert Penn Warren, in 1987-88; and won many other awards over the years, including the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2006, when he was 85.

In all, he produced nine volumes of poems and several children's books, which he himself illustrated.