Wright, James (Vol. 10)
Wright, James 1927–
Wright is an American poet and translator. His poetry has gradually evolved in style from traditional to experimental verse, consistently reflecting strong lyric grace. Considered by many critics to be one of the finest poets writing in America today, Wright received the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1972. He has collaborated with Robert Bly on a translation of Pablo Neruda's poetry. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)
Peter A. Stitt
Reading the Collected Poems of James Wright from the point of view of style is like reading a history of the best contemporary American poetry. One discovers a development which could be said to parallel the development generally of our finest recent poets…. [It is] a movement generally away from rhetoric, regular meter and rhyme, towards plainer speech, looser rhythms and few rhymes…. Not that the result is formlessness nor that the forms arrived at are alike. What one looks for is the individual voice, the distinctive style that is right for one poet but not quite right for any other.
James Wright has achieved such a style…. [Furthermore, his] poetry is sufficiently rich, both stylistically and thematically, to merit several voices. (p. 13)
Perhaps the most pervasive general theme in Wright's poetry—if theme it is—is that of separation. [In his first two volumes, The Green Wall and Saint Judas], separation appears in two guises—as the result of death and as the result of being at odds with one's society. There is a corresponding search for love as the ideal solution to the problem—but rarely is it a realised solution. The protagonists in these poems are loveless, either because they are outcasts from society or because death has separated them from the ones they loved…. I see such poems as attempts to overcome separation, alienation—attempts, of course, doomed to failure. (pp....
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COR van den HEUVEL
There is a universality in Wright's work not only in subject matter but in form and technique as well. He is a classicist in the broad sense of the word. A craftsman who can put to use the traditional elements of his art while at the same time exploring new means of expression. In subject matter, his work encompasses both the outer world of planets and horses, grass and stars, and the inner world of the mind and heart which seeks to relate to the inner worlds of others.
His first book [The Green Wall] was devoted mostly to groundwork—mastering traditional forms. It appealed mainly to academic critics. Though the poems revealed some awareness of the human condition, the doorway to the human heart was opened only a crack—and the wonders of existence were barely tapped. The demands of the traditional forms in some cases resulted in an awkwardly elaborate facade of rhyme and meter through which a stilted sentimentality came on stage to talk of dead hounds and whores. But in many of the poems the language was expertly handled and in some cases the form began to take a less restricted shape—though the iambics might still drum their tum-te-tums too insistently upon the ear.
In his second book, Saint Judas, the forms retained a strictness, but there seemed to be a freedom of language within them—a more natural speech—so that the rhymes and meter did not obtrude on the senses but rather provided a...
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R. J. Spendal
[The central conflict of "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota" is] the opposition between an impulse to change and failure or inability to do so. The speaker is aware from the beginning that he has "wasted" his life. Each of the poem's major images depicts his frustrated impulse toward change. The last lines suggest that as the evening of his life approaches the speaker resigns himself to a permanent state of irresolution. To "lean back" is to give up; this hardly seems the posture of aroused insight.
The butterfly, a traditional symbol of metamorphosis, indicates at the outset the speaker's concern with change. However the conventional meaning of the image is undercut by several details: "bronze" suggests rigidity; sleep denies to the butterfly any possibility of consciously determined movement; and "Blowing like a leaf" implies a lack of volitional strength—a leaf is easily swayed. The house in line 4 conveys a sense of achievement and security easily associated with a life well-led; but the house is empty and it belongs to William Duffy rather than the speaker…. Lastly, the chicken hawk "looking for home" symbolizes the speaker's own quest for fulfillment; but the bird only "floats," he does not vigorously and resolutely pursue his search. By now the speaker too has yielded to a life of floating as he lies back in his hammock. It is too late in the day for difficult decisions, too dark for...
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James Wright, of Ohio, has been to Vienna, to Verona, to Sirmio, never forgetting Ohio, which sounds as sweet as any of them. Of Verona's Adige he writes,
This is another river
I can still see flow by.
The Ohio must have looked
Something like this
To the people who loved it
Long before I was born.
It must, it must; though in an unexpectedly weak book ["To a Blossoming Pear Tree"] this poet who has shown strength in the past is making little effort to reach for the feel of that "must have."
The present collection goes better when anecdotal material can carry itself. Wright was waiting for a bus in the cold, and a young Sioux with a hook for a hand was good to him….
Did you ever feel a man hold
In a hook,
And place it
In your freezing hand?
We can imagine how that was. The language isn't surgically clean, just clean...
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[The poems in Wright's To A Blossoming Pear Tree are concerned with the] mythology of the insulted and injured to be located alike in southern Ohio and in the poet's body ("helpless and miserable / dreaming itself / into an apparition of loneliness"). And they exploit that mythology with the insolence of utter conviction. But so deeply is the poet identified with something which has happened to him outside the poem that he cannot be bothered, or even begged, to make it into a coherence within the poem…. The divine event is a deja vu; it is, it has always been, as Wright says, "a secret of blossoms we had no business / to understand, only to remember." (One figures here is the source of Wright's new apostrophe, the object of his attentions and the subject of his askesis: blossoming.) Hence there is a particular stimmung (he has translated Theodor Storm, Trakl and, most recently, Hesse) of James Wright's past, which we remember, which we recognize … and we note certain clues toward what is dimly apprehended as a sort of Ohio Osiris Complex in the last book, Two Citizens: the sense of disintegration in dark waters, the embrace of a tree, and a resurrection ("I rose out of my body so high into / that sycamore tree that it became / the only tree that ever loved me"). But my sense, my suspicion of Wright's legend of himself as the Torn God was confirmed by no more than scattered limbs, perhaps appropriately—"wound...
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