Charles Wright is the United States Poet Laureate. His poetry collections include Country Music, Black Zodiac, Chickaqmauga, Bye-and-Bye: Selected Later Poems, Sestets, and Caribou. He is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Book Award, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and the 2013 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry. Born in Pickwick Dam, Tennesee in 1935, he currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Wright is one of those rare and gifted poets who can turn thought into music. Following his self-prescribed regimen of purgatio, illuminato, and contemplatio, Wright spins one lovely lyric after another on such elemental subjects as sky, trees, birds, months, and seasons. But the real subject is the thinking process itself and the mysterious alchemy of language: "The world is a language we never quite understand." But Wright's metaphors are readily grasped: an "epaulet of stars," the "hat/of daylight," the "dead script of vines," an "oil-rag American sky," or "fall's early chemotherapy." The beauty of these poems-with their echoes of Wallace Stevens and Theodore Roethke-is hard won. Under the joyful act of composition lies "the heart's arctic," and the poet listens closely to "what the darkness says." Each poem celebrates a precious aesthetic fact-"one the in a world of a." Highly recommended for all collections.-Daniel L. Guillory, Millikin Univ., Decatur, Ill.
In subject matter, many poems in the six varied-length sections here are akin to haiku: meditations that connect breaths of spirituality to pinpoints in time and space‘details of a landscape, season, time of day. But Wright (who won the 1983 National Book Award for poetry) gives his observations a more intimate, personal turn with his conversational voice, which carries subtle King James Bible cadences in long lines swept in broken segments across the page. His concern here is ``the two-hearted sorrow of middle-age''; as his attention shifts from the works of T.S. Eliot and Lao Tzu, to a dwindling orchard, to memories of Italy, there is an underlying sense that some search is over, that objects or events once inspiring now simply add to ``the shadow that everything casts.'' Punctuating such sombre ruminations are images of sudden, fearsome flames: ``My life, this shirt I want to take off, which is on fire....'' The strain of these extremes often stretches the poetry to abstraction, but often, as in ``Expectantly empty, green as a pocket, the meadow waits/ For the wind to rise and fill it,'' the themes of absence and loss are measured in the precisely distilled images for which Wright is known. (Apr.)
"In his generation, the generation of Ashbery, Rich, Ammons, Ginsberg, Plath, and Merrill, Wright is perhaps closest to Plath in his intensity of the image, closest to Ammons in his sense of the sidereal. But he sounds like nobody else, and he has remained faithful to insights and intuitions--of darkness as of light--less than common in contemporary America." --Helen Vendler, The New Republic "Chickamauga marks a new turning point in Wright's career . . . Like [Wallace] Stevens's The Rock, Chickamauga is the result of a self-consciously imposed limitation . . . Most of Wright's new poems fit neatly on one page, and, if anything, each poem seems more gorgeous than the one preceding it . . . Wright's turn toward smaller poems is the result of a metaphysical as well as formal dilemma . . . [It] is a beautiful book, bearably human yet in touch with the sublime; I would not want to be deprived of any of its poems. But I can't help wondering what Charles Wright--who must be thought of as one of our living masters--could possibly do next." --James Longenbach, The Yale Review