Charles Penzel Wright, Jr., one of the most inventive and consistently interesting American poets of the last half of the twentieth century, was born in the small town of Pickwick Dam in Hardin County, Tennessee, in 1935. He attended Davidson College, from which he received a B.A. in history in 1957. He later described his college experience as “wasted years”; he had no vocation to be a poet at the time and had not read much poetry in college. After graduating from Davidson, he spent three years in Army Intelligence, most of them in Italy. There he read Ezra Pound and began to think of becoming a poet. Pound was living during those years nearby in Rapallo, but Wright was too shy to introduce himself to the great but disgraced founder of modernism. Nevertheless, Pound’s work, particularly the imagery of his early poems remained a great influence on Wright’s poetry.
After leaving the Army, Wright enrolled at the University of Iowa’s distinguished Writers’ Workshop, from which he received an M.F.A. in 1963. At Iowa, he studied under Donald Justice and Paul Engle; he speaks with warmth of Justice as a superb poet and teacher. In 1966 he began teaching at the University of California at Irvine. For a time he lived in Laguna Beach, California, a seaside resort about which he has written some sardonic poems; he subsequently became a professor at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. He has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Academy of American Poets, and a Fulbright grant.
In one of his essays, Wright has cited two quite different figures as important influences: A. P. Carter, the head of the famous group of country musicians the Carter Family, and Emily Dickinson. His own poetry is a curious mixture of rural language, humor, and esoteric philosophical concerns. Wright has described his method as...
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