Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In the pantheon of great artists who Wright admires, Paul Cézanne has a primacy of place. “I’d like to be able to write poems the way he painted pictures,” Wright says, and Cézanne is most prominent among the “great dead” with whom Wright feels he must converse in his work. Eight pages long, a section per page, and sixteen lines per section, “Homage to Paul Cézanne” opens The Southern Cross, establishing an elegaic ethos that permits Wright to interweave the ghostly and the tangible (as David Walker puts it). The separate sections of the poem are not numbered, but are not “haphazard or substitutable,” Wright explains, their order “accumulative,” thus functioning like brushstrokes or the layering of paint on a canvas, a technique which Wright likens to his poetic method and which he illustrates in action with an image like “The dead are a cadmium blue/ We spread them with palette knives in broad blocks and planes.”
As the poem opens, Wright states one of his essential themes, a proposition that is a factor in his work even when it is not directly addressed. Speaking of “the dead,” the poet states, “Like us, they refract themselves. Like us/ They keep on saying the same thing, trying to get it right./ Like us, the water unsettles their names.” This direct correlation removes a barrier, mingles modes, and leads to a series of propositions that David Young describes as “triggers, opening moves” in a...
(The entire section is 409 words.)
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