Inspiration and Craft

"Take these two books," is an entirely arbitrary prompting by an editor who happened to have them around on a shelf. Willy-nilly, here they are together, and one looks at them, shuffling through the poems, some familiar and some not. And there is a moment when the rightness of the conjunction seems wonderful! A piece organizes itself: Eberhart is a poet of inspiration, taking odd chances, falling on his face more often than any practitioner of comparable distinction in our time; Wilbur is a careful, consummate, almost intimidating craftsman who never makes technical errors. Thus an idea forms itself, whether, for a book review or essay, or for a poem, or anything else, I should think. And as honest as we can be about our recollections of what actually takes place in that mysterious instant, it seems pretty clearly to be some combination of revelation and drudgery, epiphany and skill, or whatever we choose to call these opposing dualities.

You don't get to choose what kind of writer you're going to be. It is a mercy that most writers tend to approve of the kind they are, but that isn't always absolutely the case. There can be some generosity of spirit (or even some envy) by which you can see a blessing in the other kind of gift.

Eberhart is a winner of the Bollingen and Pulitzer prizes and the National Book Award, a former consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress. He has all the heavyweight credentials....

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