James (Arlington) Wright 1927–1980
American poet and translator.
Wright, who ranks among the most esteemed poets of his generation, was a significant contributor to the "deep image" school of poetry that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Reacting against the limits of traditional verse, the writers of the deep image school wrote emotional, subjective poetry and relied primarily on image to convey meaning. They called for an intimacy between the poem and the reader and a direct relationship between human experience and its poetic expression. Before becoming involved with this group, Wright wrote in the formalist tradition of such writers as John Crowe Ransom. His poetry in this early period was characterized by formal construction and by a precise use of rhythm, meter, and rhyme. Wright's first two volumes of verse, The Green Wall (1957) and Saint Judas (1959), were written in this mode and were well received by critics. The Green Wall won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1957. Wright's writing nevertheless underwent a drastic change.
In the early 1960s, while writing and teaching English at universities in Minnesota, Wright became influenced by his contemporary, Robert Bly. Through Bly, Wright became aware of the highly subjective, surrealist poetry of Pablo Neruda, César Vallejo, and others. The Branch Will Not Break (1963), Wright's third volume, is the first to be written in this later style. This collection displays both a relaxing of his previous formal control and a change from the exalted visions of his earlier work. Wright became more concerned with contemporary society, and his poems were often marked by despair. Prostitutes, murderers, and social outcasts peopled his writing. Whether Wright was expressing joy found in the mundane—one poem, for instance, celebrates the beauty of a sewage drain—or anguishing over the encroachment of technology and the spoiling of landscape, his hometown of Martin's Ferry, Ohio, often provided the backdrop.
When Wright died, he had completed the manuscript for This Journey (1982), a collection of poems concerned with his journey through life and his contemplations of death. An acutely emotional poet, Wright wrote with compassion about human suffering and helped bring about the heightened immediacy and impact of deep image poetry, which is the basis for his importance to contemporary poetry.
(See also CLC, Vols. 3, 5, 10; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52, Vols. 97-100 [obituary]; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 4; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 5.)