The American poet Anthony Hecht (1923–2004) is an unfashionable figure. His work is celebrated for its mastery of traditional form and its dedication to the high style, in common with the work of friends such as James Merrill and Richard Wilbur. But at this late stage it is hard to see how this writing – with its formal polish, its rarefied but sometimes stiff and antique diction, its rather academic literariness – could make a comeback among a wider readership when the most-loved poets from the generation who came of age in mid-century are the likes of Frank O’Hara, Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg, whose work is full of breezy fun, expressive trauma and rule-breaking.
Yet Hecht’s best poems still make their shape distinctively felt. Jonathan Post, the editor of these selected letters, does well in his introduction to draw attention to a fine example, the late poem ‘Proust on Skates’. Elaborating on a small detail in the biography by Ronald Hayman, the poem takes