Charles Wright Black Zodiac
Awards: Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
Born in 1935, Wright is an American poet and translator.
For further information on Wright's life and career, see CLC, Volumes 6, 13, and 28.
Charles Wright was born on August 25, 1935, in Pickwick Darn, Tennessee. He graduated from Davidson College in 1957 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and from the University of Iowa in 1963 with a Master of Fine Arts degree. In 1957 he entered the Army and was stationed in Italy as a member of a counterintelligence unit. He became captivated by poetry, particularly the landscape around him and its descriptions as presented in Ezra Pound's Cantos, which he used as a guidebook to the terrain. He also read T. S. Eliot, Dante, and other poets. Visual experience is an important feature in Wright's poetry, a fact acknowledged by critics and by Wright himself. Wright claims that his visual metaphors are not attempts to express abstract ideas, but the reverse; it is the sensate world which stimulates the abstract. Many reviewers believe that Wright's childhood in rural Tennessee remains a vital force in his writing, for he shows a typically Southern concern for the past and its power. Wright's major works fall into a trilogy of trilogies, or triptychs. Wright feels that the word "trilogy" implies an interrelationship on a strictly textual level, but he prefers to view his works as different views of the same life experiences. His first book of poetry, The Grave of the Right Hand (1970), while garnering praise, is seen as a pastiche of Pound. In his second book, Hard Freight (1973), Wright is credited with finding his own voice. In this first triptych, Hard Freight, Bloodlines (1975), and China Trace (1977), Wright experiments freely with concepts and style, and his major theme of man's interrelationship with the world and metaphysical spirituality take shape. Although his work includes first-hand experience and personal subjects, he avoids subjectivity. Helen Vendler uses the term "the transcendent I" to describe this perspective. Wright's reputation and recognition continued to grow through his second and third triptychs, and he is widely regarded as one of America's foremost living poets. The penultimate volume of his third triptych, Black Zodiac (1997), won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1998. In addition to the Pulitzer, Wright has won numerous other awards and fellowships.