Sketch for an Aesthetic Project Analysis

Jay Wright

The Poem

“Sketch for an Aesthetic Project” is a long narrative poem in four sections totaling ninety lines. Jay Wright employs the first-person voice to lend immediacy to the spontaneity of experience and thought. Three lines from Thomas Kinsella’s “Night-walker” introduce the poem: “I believe now that love is half persistence,/ A medium in which, from change to change,/ Understanding may be gathered.” Wright’s narrator achieves this understanding by equating aesthetics with the natural changes of love. The poem’s first section contains three stanzas; the remaining three sections contain one stanza each.

In the first section’s five-line stanza, the narrator describes his restlessness with his “stomp[ing] about these rooms in an old overcoat.” Anxiety seldom compels him to leave his enclosure “even on sunny days,” and his cold rooms suggest a dormant foundry.

One night, when he does leave, he finds emptiness, and this suggested locale corresponds to Wright’s native Albuquerque, New Mexico, or the Mexico that he deeply enjoys. In the second and longest of this section’s stanzas, the speaker discovers in the vacant environs a few persons, a burro, the sounds of his own footsteps, and the furtive “unthinking walkers” cursed by the arcane. The soul he hopes to meet “tugging a burro up the street/ loaded with wet wood” would be his alter ego, laden with fuel to ignite a beauteous aesthetic response, but this figure...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Forms and Devices

Because Jay Wright’s poems are both deeply spiritual and profoundly experiential, his figurative language encompasses regions such as his native southwestern United States, Harlem, and other African American communities, and the richness of their languages, idioms, and rhythms. Many of his poems reflect his appreciation of African culture and history and its dissemination in the western hemisphere, and his readers also encounter Mesoamerican allusions and images.

Wright’s narrative technique utilizes subtle musical qualities. He quickly creates staccato effect in “Sketch for an Aesthetic Project” with st sounds, often referring to action, in section 1—“I stomp,” “I step,” “staggering,” “streets,” and “a dimeyed student.” He achieves a similar effect with “I clatter over cobbled streets.I pretend not to be afraid of witches.” The tensions that assist and sustain creativity are reflected in this section’s hard consonants, but these hard sounds yield to softer sounds as the poem proceeds until they return in section 3. The effective repetition of words and sounds, another musical quality, can be found in the phrase “only, perhaps” in line 8, restated in line 11 of the first section, and near the close of sections 1 and 3, where those whose presence the narrator needs would either “pluck my pity” or “pluck my bones.”

The narrative style of section 2 is less figurative and more direct, its...

(The entire section is 402 words.)


Callaloo 6 (Fall, 1983). Special issue on Jay Wright.

Doreski, C. K. “Decolonizing the Spirits: History and Storytelling in Jay Wright’s Soothsayers and Omens.” In Reading Race in American Poetry: An Area of Act, edited by Aldon Lynn Nielsen. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Harris, Wilson. The Womb of Space: The Cross-Cultural Imagination. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.

Kutzinski, Vera M. Against the American Grain: Myth and History in William Carlos Williams, Jay Wright, and Nicolás Guillén. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

Okpewho, Isidore. “From a Goat Path in Africa: An Approach to the Poetry of Jay Wright.” Callaloo: A Journal of the African American and African Arts and Letters 14 (Summer, 1991): 692-726.

Stepto, Robert. “After Modernism, After Hibernation: Michael Harper, Robert Hayden, and Jay Wright.” In Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Arts, and Scholarship, edited by Michael S. Harper and Stepto. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979.

Stepto, Robert. Introduction to Selected Poems of Jay Wright. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Welburn, Ron. “Jay Wright’s Poetics: An Appreciation.” MELUS 18 (Fall, 1993): 51-70.