Patrick Kurp at The Quarterly Conversation:
Robert and Mary Bagg have written the first biography of our greatest living poet, now age ninety-six, borrowing their title from Bogan’s prescient review of The Beautiful Changes, published seventy years ago. The Baggs draw upon previously unpublished journals, family archives, and interviews with Wilbur, his family, and friends, and these constitute the most valuable and interesting portions of the book. Wilbur is eminently quotable, in prose, verse, and conversation, but the book as a whole is a rather plodding affair. More about that below.
In an age when poets have jettisoned prosody and much verse is indistinguishable from prose, Wilbur has “remained true to his own poetic identity, refusing to develop fashionable, and usually transitory, styles,” in the words of his biographers. He has written precisely one poem in free verse, today’s lingua franca. In 2008, Wilbur told an interviewer: “The kind of poetry I like best, and try to write, uses the whole instrument. Meter, rhyme, musical expression—everything is done for the sake of what’s being said, not for the sake of prettiness.” Throughout his writing life, Wilbur has been accused of being effete, reactionary, elegant, and insufficiently transgressive and progressive. We learn from the Baggs, Wilbur was politely left-leaning as a young man, dabbled with pacifism, and has never been particularly interested in politics. Born in 1921, he served in World War II as a cryptographer with the 36th Texas Division.