James Arlington Wright is one of the most significant poetic voices reacting to what has been called the “high modernist” American poetry of the early twentieth century, represented by T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and others. His early break from this type of highly formal poetry was associated with the “deep image” school of Robert Bly but soon outgrew such categories. Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, an industrial town on the upper Ohio River, in 1927, fourteen months before the stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The insecurities of an industrial town during the Depression haunt his poetry, and the Ohio Valley, with its paradoxical conflux of natural beauty and industrial ugliness, remained prominent in his imagery, even in his poetry written in Europe.
Despite this emphasis on his Ohio home in his writing, Wright’s early years were marked by his keen desire to get away from it. Upon graduation in 1946, he enlisted in the Army and served a tour in Japan. After completing military service, Wright entered Kenyon College in 1948. His senior year, 1952, was filled with milestones: He married his high school sweetheart, Liberty Kardules; had his first poem published in the Western Review; won the Robert Frost Poetry Prize; and received a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Vienna. His first son, Franz, was born in Vienna.
Returning to the United States, Wright began graduate study in English literature at the University of Washington in the fall of 1953. In 1957, his first book of poetry, The Green Wall, was published in the Yale Younger Poets series, a prestigious venue for which the competition is sharp. Further distinction was given the volume via its foreword by the eminent modernist poet W. H. Auden. The verse of The Green Wall is very much like that of the...
(The entire section is 766 words.)