A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright
August 16, 2005 9:59 AM   Subscribe

“To speak in a flat voice / Is all that I can do. / . . . I speak of flat defeat / In a flat voice.”
James Wright's letters chronicle many of the major innovations in American poetry in the middle of the twentieth century. They also provide a compelling personal narrative of his life. Here, the American Poetry Review publishes a selection taken from the new volume "A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright". More inside.
posted by matteo (8 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Wright wrote to his close friend Donald Hall,
“Whatever a poet has been in the past, right now he is defined, to me, as a man who has both the power and the courage to see, and then, to show, the truth through words. If I’m a bad poet, that means a liar.”
Wright is the father of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Franz Wright
posted by matteo at 10:03 AM on August 16, 2005

James Wright Poetry Festival in Martins Ferry Ohio, Wright's home town

One of James Wright's most famous poems: A Blessing
Just off the Highway to Rochester, Minnesota
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
posted by matteo at 10:16 AM on August 16, 2005

An excellent post. Thanks. There is something about the letters of poets that I like so much! Perhaps it's that I feel too frequently at a loss before the poems themselves, but I know that reading Hart Crane's letters, and James Schuyler's, were great reading experiences. Schuyler's diaries, too, were excellent.
posted by OmieWise at 10:43 AM on August 16, 2005

Hey, Omiewise, check out John Keats' letters if you haven't already - when he's on they practically glow.

As for James Wright, The Branch Will Not Break is one of my all time favourite books. Worth checking out if you're new to his work. Thanks for the post, matteo.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 11:19 AM on August 16, 2005

Love the James Wright. And ditto theinsectsarewaiting. If you ever need your heart broken, read "Lying In a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm In Pine Island Minnesota" (title from memory, so no snarks please if it's not exact).

posted by Toecutter at 11:51 AM on August 16, 2005

The New Yorker article is quite good on both Wright and Roethke.
posted by OmieWise at 12:11 PM on August 16, 2005

Oh, just noticed the above mentioned poem is linked to in the post. Try reading it aloud to someone!
posted by Toecutter at 5:17 PM on August 16, 2005

When I went out to kill myself, I caught
A pack of hoodlums beating up a man.
Running to spare his suffering, I forgot
My name, my number, how my day began,
How soldiers milled around the garden stone
And sang amusing songs; how all that day
Their javelins measured crowds; how I alone
Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away.

Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,
Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope
Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms:
Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten,
The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope,
I held the man for nothing in my arms.

--"Saint Judas"

I went to Kenyon and decided to do a thesis on either Lowell or Wright. I chose Lowell, who is also fascinating, but can't say I read him much any more. Wright can be overly sentimental, and the drinking really hurt his work, but his best poems are stunning.

A good friend of E.L Doctorow's as well.
posted by bardic at 8:35 PM on August 16, 2005

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