God's Silence (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
Franz Wright comes to the world of poetry as the son of the highly acclaimed American poet James Wright, who won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1972. Franz won the same prize in 2004 for his wonderful collection Walking to Martha’s Vineyard (2003); they are the only father and son to have both won the award. When he was a child, many influential American poets came by to visit his father, including Anne Sexton, Theodore Roethke, and John Berryman. Young Franz came to believe that all of the luminaries were “nuts.” He found them all to be “big drinkers.” It took him many years to realize that one could be an artist and still lead a “normal life.” As a teenager, he wrote his first poems. It has been reported that his famous father said, “I’ll be damned. You’re a poet. Welcome to hell.” The young Wright learned over time that having a “love for the art itself” is what is crucial.
In 1953, Franz Wright was born in Vienna, Austria. He grew up to appreciate the literary life, but it did not necessarily bring happiness. In fact, Wright became a tortured soul who did not feel comfortable in his own skin. His first poetry collection, Tapping the White Cane of Solitude, was published in 1976. Four years later, his famous father died. During most of Franz Wright’s adult life, he has struggled with substance abuse and mental illness. At one point in time, he even attempted suicide. The creative fire alone could not sustain him. He became a lost soul who shut down and lost all purpose for living. While as a teenager he had learned the “power in poetry,” he now found himself struggling to communicate on even the most rudimentary level. During the 1990’s, Wright suffered a complete mental breakdown. It was necessary for him to spend two years in a mental institution. The years of drug and alcohol abuse had taken a heavy toll on his psyche and his physical well-being. In the late 1990’s, he converted to Catholicism. This conversion had a dramatic impact on his life: His spiritual awakening helped him to write poetry again; he discovered that he could use poetry as a “healing force.”
For Wright, a successful poem seems to have a life of its own. The despair and hopelessness that surrounded him for years was lifted through what he considered a “spiritual intervention.” As the author of more than ten volumes of poetry, Wright has come to realize that poetry is his way of communicating to the world. Through poetry, he attempts to get at the heart of the matter. The acclaimed poet Charles Simic has stated that Wright is a miniaturist and has the “secret ambition” to “write an epic on the inside of a matchbook cover.” Out of his life experiences, Wright has come to realize that living can be extremely difficult but that the alternative to living is no alternative at all. He has come to understand that “life is . . . suffering.”
In addition to his Catholic faith, he has studied the spiritual teachings of the Buddha. Out of his personal spiritual journey, Wright has found a way to carry on, to make the most of his many talents, to live to the best of his ability. For more than twenty-five years, he floundered and led a very self-destructive life. Turning to faith helped to make it possible for him to communicate again, to fully live again. Faith does not come easily though, and Wright recognizes how difficult it can be to live in the world. For him there are no easy answersonly the journey, the search for true meaning. Wright sees poetry as a “solitary pursuit” that has “never been a popular art form in the United States.” With this realization, the poet must find his own voice and be true to it. As Wright sees it, “the best art” is created by those “who really don’t give a damn what people think of their work.”
At ninety-two poems in 144 pages, God’s Silence is a substantial volume of poetry. With this new collection, Wright continues to mine many of the same topics that he so brilliantly delineated in his 2003 collection Walking to Martha’s Vineyard. The personal journey of discovery of self and the world around him continues to be of prime importance. While life is a serious endeavor, Wright realizes that he should...
(The entire section is 1738 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Sources for Further Study
Hammer, Langdon. “To Live Is to Do Evil: Franz Wright’s Poems Pursue a State of Revelation.” The New York Times Book Review, May 14, 2006, 38. A detailed review of God’s Silence, describing how the poet’s “I” addresses “a (frequently) capitalized ’You,’ his name for God.”
Kriesel, Michael. Review of God’s Silence. Library Journal 131, no. 6 (April 1, 2006): 98. The reviewer notes that Wright succeeds in “conveying the ineffable convincingly” and calls for the collection’s becoming “required reading in our high schools.”
St. John, Janet. Review of God’s Silence. Booklist, April 1, 2006, 14. Considers the collection “thought-provoking, original, and refreshingly inspired.”
Wright, Franz. The Beforelife. New York: Random House, 2001. Wright’s first full-length collection of poetry after his commitment to Catholicism; the primary religious subject is the eschatology of the afterlife. A 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Wright, Franz. Ill Lit: Selected and New Poems. Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College Press, 1998. A broad sampling of Wright’s work from 1982 to 1998, useful for retroactively tracing the poet’s spiritual and religious development.
Wright, Franz. Walking to Martha’s Vineyard. New York: Random House, 2003. A lucid and breathtaking exploration of Wright’s journey toward the discovery of God; winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.