In his essay “Poetry and Happiness,” Richard Wilbur asserts that poets cannot achieve artistic fulfillment until their “vision fuses with the view from the window” (136). Wilbur’s examination of the tension between imaginative vision and concrete reality stands central to his writing. He frequently traverses this terrain through poems that probe the relationship of people to works of art, human-made objects, and performance-based representations. In such pieces, he both courts and resists the blurring of distinctions between reality and imitation, immersing readers in illusion while tugging us back to the world. When it comes to the interplay of life and art in Wilbur’s writing, some critics have argued, as Henry Taylor notes, that Wilbur’s “well-wrought surfaces” risk containing “little more than themselves,” possessed of a consummate artifice that keeps reality away (94). However, a close reading of Wilbur’s poetry reveals that, in his view, artifice performs the paradoxical function of helping us more fully see reality. Art that engages this paradox, Wilbur’s work insists, is essential to our lives if we wish to avoid personal, political, and cultural ruin.
“No woman poet of her generation was as adored, or as widely read or quoted, as Edna St. Vincent Millay,” Holly Peppe writes in her introduction to the new Selected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay’s ascent to the status Peppe describes, well-documented by multiple biographers, could be a movie tagline from the Golden Age of Hollywood: “Young woman of modest means from rural Maine skyrockets to stardom.” Not long after garnering wide accolades for her poem “Renascence” when she was only twenty-one years old, Millay became a sought-after celebrity among Greenwich Village literati. With the publication of her books A Few Figs from Thistles and The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems in the early 1920’s, she achieved national renown and earned a Pulitzer Prize, still just the beginning of a career that would span ten poetry collections along with numerous lauded works in other genres.