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Joe asks whether I’m having the teenager read any of Richard Wilbur’s poetry as part of her American-literature course.

Wilbur, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, is an elder statesman of American letters and may well represent, though I don’t know anything about his actual politics, one answer to last week’s question regarding culture and culture wars. Certainly he’s a poet whose body of work reflects a conservative instinct in the highest supra-political sense: serving rather than breaking with the traditional forms of poetry in English; discerning order, design, and beauty in such random images as laundry waving on a line.

In its meticulous yet seemingly effortless craftsmanship, and in its moments of piercing un-self-conscious poignancy, Wilbur’s work stands up impressively beside that of, oh, I don’t know, what’s that woman’s name who wrote that inaugural poem?

Anybody still reading that one?

Right. Last January was a long time ago.

Anyway, I haven’t actually read that carefully through the contemporary-poetry section of the ol’ Glencoe text, but I’m glad Joe reminded me about Wilbur. I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t have my daughter read this.

As I told Joe, though, my children have been reciting Wilbur since they could talk, thanks to the funny little Thurberesque Opposites and More Opposites, now collected in a single volume. These “opposites” are poems arising from a game the Wilburs played at the dinner table while their four children were growing up: one person would think of a word, then everyone else in turn would try to come up with the most perfect opposite of that word.

Here’s an example:

The opposite of so-and-so
Is anyone whose name you know,
Or someone good who would not take
Your skateboard or your piece of cake,
Making you tell him, with a thwack,
“You so-and-so! I want that back!”

And my personal favorite:
What is the opposite of string?
It’s gnirts, which doesn’t mean a thing.

All great fun, and I think we’ll read some Opposites aloud today. Thanks for the reminder, Joe.

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