Saturday, September 23, 2006

Charles Wright's New Collection of Poems

Charles Wright is one of America's finest poets. He has spent his career searching the space between belief and doubt and recording what he finds there. His work sometimes has the feel of a struggle with the unbearable weight of being pushing against the realization that everything is exactly as it should be. You can also find more than a little Buddhism mixed into his agnostic Christianity.

From The New York Times Book Review:
A World in Permanent Flux

Published: September 17, 2006

Wallace Stevens said “it must be abstract,” William Carlos Williams said “no ideas but in things,” and Charles Wright, even after writing poems for more than 30 years, still can’t decide. Tennessean by birth, Virginian by longtime residence, languid by literary temperament, Wright has written more than a dozen books of poems, including a meditative and elegiac trio of trilogies he’s referred to as “The Appalachian Book of the Dead,” one volume of which, “Black Zodiac” (1997) won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award. In the musing, sinuous poems of “Scar Tissue,” his new collection, as in much of his earlier work, Wright sometimes seems to prize the imagination above all else, describing “the absence the two / horses have left on the bare slope, / The silence that grazes like two shapes where they have been” as if the idea of horses were more important to him than the animals themselves. (Even this poem’s title, “Against the American Grain,” advertises its antipathy toward Williams, author of “In the American Grain.”) But elsewhere Wright seems to place far greater faith in things than in their representations (“A thing is not an image, / imagination’s second best”) and to mock the notion that the abstract imagination could ever be preferable to the physical world’s adamant particulars. After all, “How many word-warriors ever return / from midnight’s waste and ruin?” It’s not the transcendent that persists, but the lowly actual: “Whatever is insignificant has its own strength, / Whatever is hidden, clear vision. / Thus the ant in its hide-and-seek, / thus the dung beetle, / And all the past weight of the world it packs on its back.”

Tim Robinson

By Charles Wright. 73 pp.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $22.

Read the rest.

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