photo by Curt Richter
The John Malcolm Brinnin Memorial Event commanded a
full house at the San Carlos Institute last night to pay tribute to Richard
Wilbur, in whose honor this year’s Seminar is being held. The evening began with a performance
of two songs from the Broadway musical “Candide” by local singers Bruce Moore and Sandy Walters, accompanied by pianist Vincent Zito. First produced in 1956,
Wilbur collaborated to write the lyrics with composer Leonard Bernstein and
playwright Lillian Hellman.
Wilbur took the stage and was greeted by a
standing ovation. He wintered and wrote in Key West beginning in the 1960s, and
so he began the evening with a Key West poem, “Security Lights, Key West.” The poem likens the “glare of halogen” on the yards of a quiet block to “the settings
of some noble play.” The “pitch-black houses,” he concedes, may be the site of
great drama, as well.
He went on to read two tender poems about love and his
late wife, “For Charlee” and “The House.” He also read from his forthcoming
book, “The Anteroom.” A portion of this book is dedicated to Wilbur’s translations of riddles, and it was with great animation that he shared a few with the crowd.
The riddle is a great from, he said, which unfortunately is usually seen only
in nursery rhymes.
He went on to read his poem, “The Writer,” for
which the name of this year’s seminar has borrowed his line “clearing the sill
of the world.” It was a great pleasure to hear him read this poem about his
In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are
tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
He concluded the night’s reading with short poems
from his children’s book “The Disappearing Alphabet.” In this, he illustrates
how detrimental the loss of a single letter would be. “For instance, any self
respecting DUCK/ Would rather be extinct than be an UCK.”
The evening ended with another standing ovation
and murmurings from the audience for more. Afterwards, the crowd assembled at
the historic Custom House for cocktails and dessert where Wilbur mingled
amongst poets, readers, and writers.