An artist is what he is not because he has lived a more dramatic life than other people, but because his inner world is richer and more available and also, more importantly, becaue he loves and understands whichever medium he uses—language, paint, music, film, stone—and wants to explore its possibilities and make of it something perfect. * Art is a quest for order and sanity underaken by people who are themselves often disorderly, none too sane, and rarely loveable. Mercifully, art itself is greater than the sum of the artists. To create voices in the reader’s head, images in the mind’s eye, imaginary presences with lives of their own, is an intricate and subtle skill that requires self-awareness and self-denial—modesty, even—as well as a craftsman’s fascination with the work as something with a life of its own, independent of its maker and his noisy ego.
It seems to me that the “quest for order and sanity” suggests a way forward. Thomas McGrath put it this way in his masterwork Letter to an Imaginary Friend: “I begin with identity / and seek the Wilderness Trace / and the true road of the spirit.” American poets have been wandering away from that road for far too long.