C. D. Wright Essay - Critical Essays


C. D. Wright’s work has never been extremely narrative, but her earlier poems are more nearly conventional, headed by titles and often containing some narrative elements that may make them feel accessible to new readers. In later volumes, she has come to rely more and more on repeated images, fragments of dialogue, long lines, and prose poems that may segue from one to another to make an entire volume without discrete poems. The power of image—whether concerned with place or with human relationships—to command one’s imagination dominates her work, although other thematic threads such as political and ecological references are also present.

String Light

Many of the poems in String Light seem explicitly autobiographical, growing from events in Wright’s own life or the lives of those around her. “King’s Daughters, Home for Unwed Mothers, 1948,” for example, imagines the birth of Frank Stanford. His mother comes from rural poverty; his father has disappeared. Although, as the poem claims, his parents will outlive him, his accomplishments will far exceed their imaginations.

“The Night I Met Little Floyd” and “The Next Time I Crossed the Line into Oklahoma” evoke graduate school events, including trips from northwest Arkansas to Tulsa. In the former poem, “Jessie” is taken to Tulsa for an abortion. Back home, the household is filled with visiting poets and other university town characters including “Sonnyman,” perhaps a name for Stanford. The same characters appear in the second poem, this time in the narrative of a trip to buy marijuana.

“What No One Could Have Told Them” records details from the first year or so of a child’s life—his first words, his baby peccadilloes such as pouring furniture polish on the dog—each stanza made of two or three lines of prose representing things no one could tell a parent before the child’s birth. The speaker relates a particularly striking example: “Naked in a splash of sun, he pees into a paper plate the guest/ set down in the grass as she reached for potato chips.” The two poems that follow this demonstrate Wright’s interest in Language poetry by taking details such as the sentence about the child peeing into the guest’s plate and working a number of variations on its syntax, rearranging subject and verb, moving adverbs, adding or deleting small details.

“The Ozark Odes” are a group of short poems evoking the Ozarks in a variety of voices and modes....

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