James Wright Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What is the justification for calling Judas a “saint”?

What does James Wright’s poetry gain from his abandonment of the formal stanzas, meter, and rhyme that he employed in his early poems?

What compensations do Wright’s afflicted characters receive in return for their troubles?

In Wright’s “A Blessing,” what is the blessing? What does the phrase “break into blossom” at the end of the poem signify?

How do individual poems of The Branch Will Not Break fulfill that suggestive title?

Find examples of Wright’s precise observations of external nature.

James Wright Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although his fame rests almost exclusively with his original poetry, James Wright made a valuable contribution in one other area of literary modernism—the translation. Ezra Pound insisted that translation was in itself an art of the highest creative order, and Wright (especially while he was collaborating with Robert Bly) brought the works of many distinguished European and Latin American authors to readers of English. Wright’s translations for Bly’s Sixties Press included poems by Georg Trakl, César Vallejo, and Pablo Neruda. Wright also translated Hermann Hesse’s Poems (1970), and, in collaboration with his son Franz Paul Wright, Hesse’s Wandering (1972). In addition, he translated Theodor Storm’s The Rider on the White Horse, and Selected Stories (1964), as well as individual poems of several Latin American poets of the twentieth century.

James Wright Achievements

(Poets and Poetry in America)

James Wright was widely honored in literary and academic circles, and his Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972. Before his graduation from Kenyon College in 1952, Wright was awarded with the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Prize. He won a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1959, the Ohioana Book Award for Poetry in 1960, and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1971. Wright received a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Vienna, Austria, where he studied the fiction of Theodor Storm. In his experiments with Deep Image poetry, Wright explored alternatives to the strict rhetoric by which Robert Lowell and his followers created one version of the confessional mode of postmodern poetry. His work with this style led James Dickey to call him “one of the few authentic visionary poets writing today.”

James Wright Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Dougherty, David. James Wright. Boston: Twayne, 1987. This essential book provides the reader with a historical study of Wright’s development as a craftsman, thereby allowing the individual to judge the poet’s historical importance. In addition, the book suggests—and examines—the intended unity in each of Wright’s books and provides readers with insightful readings of key Wright texts.

Dougherty, David. The Poetry of James Wright. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991. Critical interpretation of selected works by Wright. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Roberson, William. James Wright: An Annotated Bibliography. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1995. Good resource for locating articles and other publications by and about Wright.

Smith, Dave. The Pure Clear Word: Essays on the Poetry of James Wright. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982. Attempts to determine the degree to which Wright confessed the truth and to which he fabricated reality in his work. The essays include W. H. Auden’s foreword to “The Green War,” Robert Bly’s “The Work of James Wright,” and others that cover a variety of topics from Wright’s personal life to his poetry. Contains a bibliography.

Stein, Kevin. James Wright: The Poetry of a Grown Man. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1989. An academic study that traces the growth of the entire body of Wright’s work. The poems are examined to show that his stylistic changes are frequently more apparent than actual, that he experienced an ongoing personal and artistic evolution, and that the transition of his themes from despair to hope is the result of his gradual acceptance of the natural world.