Franz Wright is a poet of image and metaphor. His line breaks and spacing change his words into something like musical notation and often result in ambiguous interpretations. Each poem is vast, though most are less than a page long. His diction is a mix of rough vernacular and carefully constructed images of great beauty. The tone is intimate, often dark, though not lacking in humor or pathos. Each of his books forms a coherent whole.
Wright has been able to transform the materials of his own life to create poems that, even at their most despairing, still somehow offer warm companionship and a reassuring presence. Wright is a fellow traveler who has been in some pretty tough places and managed to find what beauty and comfort there was to find. Even a painful truth is bedrock, solid ground to stand on. With the publication of Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, Wright has found a larger audience, but he is still the same Franz, in love with what words can do.
Ill Lit is a summation of Wright’s work up to that point. It includes selections from four earlier books, The One Whose Eyes Open When You Close Your Eyes, Entry in an Unknown Hand, The Night World and the Word Night, and Rorschach Test. Some of the earlier poems have been revised, though most have not. The book also includes Wright’s translations of poems by Rilke, Char, and Charles Baudelaire, among others, and ends with twenty-one new poems. For anyone coming to Wright for the first time, this book is a good introduction to his work and its major themes. In the translations, one finds clues to the poet’s aspirations and artistic principles. Ill Lit is where Wright’s work gathers force.
The title of The Beforelife refers to Wright’s transition from addiction to sobriety and all that came with it; he fell in love with and married his wife, he converted to Catholicism. Two very small poems capture something of the movement of this book; first, “The Wedding,” a poem of sheer happiness leavened with...
(The entire section is 872 words.)