(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Coda” is the last poem in Wright’s collection Boleros, a book he dedicated to his wife, Lois. Like a coda that ends a musical composition by summarizing main themes and variations, the poem forms a definitive ending to a volume in which Wright continues his spiritual and intellectual quest. This quest takes many biographical and mythological forms. He tells of places he has lived—both physically, such as Mexico, and spiritually, such as India. He reinvents stories and explores new poetic forms. In “Coda,” Wright uses meter and rhyme reminiscent of the bolero dance, with its triple meter and staccato endings. He uses an open stanza form, incorporating lines from popular Latin American songs into an English-language environment. The form of the poem thus enhances its content, which concerns the search for culture cross-currents.

“Coda” is a good example of Wright’s continuing effort to transform language and cultural visions into new forms that emphasize themes from the body of his poetry. The three stanzas all use eight lines, with a conventional paired rhyme scheme. A refrain, repeated three times at the end, finishes the poem. Allusions to Latin American culture deepen the density of the poetic context. Poems such as “Coda” challenge the reader to enter the world of an original poet who is continuing his quest for identity.

Coda Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Callaloo 6 (Fall, 1983). Special issue on Jay Wright.

Doreski, C. K. “Decolonizing the Spirits: History and Storytelling in Jay Wright’s Soothsayers and Omens.” In Reading Race in American Poetry: An Area of Act, edited by Aldon Lynn Nielsen. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Harris, Wilson. The Womb of Space: The Cross-Cultural Imagination. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.

Kutzinski, Vera M. Against the American Grain: Myth and History in William Carlos Williams, Jay Wright, and Nicolás Guillén. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

Okpewho, Isidore. “From a Goat Path in Africa: An Approach to the Poetry of Jay Wright.” Callaloo: A Journal of the African American and African Arts and Letters 14 (Summer, 1991): 692-726.

Stepto, Robert. “After Modernism, After Hibernation: Michael Harper, Robert Hayden, and Jay Wright.” In Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Arts, and Scholarship, edited by Michael S. Harper and Stepto. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979.

Stepto, Robert. Introduction to Selected Poems of Jay Wright. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Welburn, Ron. “Jay Wright’s Poetics: An Appreciation.” MELUS 18 (Fall, 1993): 51-70.