Charles Wright Analysis

Discussion Topics

Charles Wright has said that in his latter poems, he has tried to combine a “longer line with a condensed subject matter.” How does this technique work in books such as Appalachia or A Short History of the Shadow?

Wright insists that “If you’re not going to write in the historical meters of English language verse, you’d better know what they are and why not.” In what ways does Wright use traditional forms in his work?

Wright claims that he likes “prose poems a lot.” Which of his poems might be regarded as efforts in this genre?

Apply Wright’s comment “When the finger of God appears, it’s usually the wrong finger” to his extensive exploration of religious themes.

Examine how Wright’s idea that “the poet is engaged in re-creating the familiar through introducing the unfamiliar” operates in his work.

Other literary forms

Halflife: Improvisations and Interviews, 1977-1987 (1988) is a collection of writings about poetry, Charles Wright’s own and others, in the form of passages from his notebooks, essays, and interviews. Quarter Notes: Improvisations and Interviews (1995) is a similar volume. Uncollected Prose: Six Guys and a Supplement (2000) gathered other essays. Wright has translated Eugenio Montale’s The Storm, and Other Poems (1978), Dino Campana’s Orphic Songs (1984), and Odes 3.8 and 4.12 from Horace in The Odes: A New Translation by Contemporary Poets (2002).


A major figure in American poetry, Charles Wright has received extensive critical recognition. Among his many awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Edgar Allan Poe Award of the Academy of American Poets (1976), an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1977), the PEN Translation Prize (1979), and the National Book Award in Poetry (1983). He received the Award of Merit Medal in poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1992, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 1993, and the J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood Prize from Poetry magazine in 1996. In 1995, Wright was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chickamauga won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize (1996), and Black Zodiac was awarded the Pulitzer Prize (1998), the National Book Critics Circle Award (1997), and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize (1997). He served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets from 1999 to 2002. Wright was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002. In 2007, he received the Griffin Poetry Prize for Scar Tissue and the Leoncino d’Oro Award for his engagement with Italian literature. In 2008, he won the Premio Internazionale Mario Luzi Award for lifetime achievement and the Bobbitt National Prize for lifetime achievement. In 2009, he was the recipient of the Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize.


Andrews, Tom, ed. The Point Where All Things Meet: Essays on Charles Wright. Oberlin, Ohio: Field Editions, 1995. These twenty-seven essays make clear that Wright is one of a handful of poets around whom American poetry has been centered in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Contributors include David Kalstone, Helen Vendler, Calvin Bedient, David Walker, J. D. McClatchy, and Bonnie Costello.

Bedient, Calvin. “Tracing Charles Wright.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 10, no. 1 (1982): 55-74. Written in an oblique and lyrical style that is somewhat difficult to access, this article is perceptive and comprehensive. It treats Wright’s career from Hard Freight to The Southern Cross, paying close attention to major themes and particularly to the liturgical elements of the books. Bedient does not examine the individual books but ranges randomly through them, drawing examples to exemplify his interpretations.

Costello, Bonnie. “Charles Wright, Giogio Morandi, and the Metaphysics of the Line.” Mosaic 35, no. 1 (March, 2002): 149-171. Traces the influence of Italian modernist painter Morandi on Wright’s visual presentation of his poetry.

McClatchy, J. D. White Paper: On Contemporary American Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. McClatchy draws upon an interview he...

(The entire section is 453 words.)