There are two poets whose work I’ve been devouring of late: RS Thomas and Franz Wright. I will write more about the former at some other stage, of why the Welshman’s words haunt me in the hours I ought to be sleeping and of why he may in fact be one of the poets that I’ve been listening for for all my life. This wee post, however, is about Wright, an American poet writing with a different energy to Thomas’, and whose words, which are no less honest, move at a pace which betrays that he inhabits not only a different time, but a younger nation as well.
Published about a year ago, in a NYT article titled ‘Dark Glamour’, Daisy Fried writes about Franz Wright’s poems:
‘Wright’s poems sometimes feel insufficient, but also, in that insufficiency, authentic. Is there really any such thing as reconciliation? the poet seems to ask, even as he yearns for reconciliation. Anyone else might have come to terms with this quandary years ago. But poetry, like quandaries, should be unsolvable. What’s bothersome about Franz Wright is what keeps his poetry alive, and makes him worth coming back and back to’.
While these may not be the most striking examples, there is, I think, in this Pulitzer Prize-winning poet’s poems ‘One Heart’, ‘Baptism’ and ‘Old Story’ (all published in Walking to Martha’s Vineyard), instances of what Fried is eluding to:
It is late afternoon and I have just returned from
the longer version of my walk nobody knows
about. For the first time in nearly a month, and
everything changed. It is the end of March, once
more I have lived. This morning a young woman
described what it’s like shooting coke with a baby
in your arms. The astonishing windy and altering light
and clouds and water were, at certain moment,
There is only one heart in my body, have mercy
The brown leaves buried all winter creatureless feet
running over dead grass beginning to green, the first scent-
less violet here and there, returned, the first star noticed all
at once as one stands staring into the black water.
Thank You for letting me live for a little as one of the
sane; thank You for letting me know what this is
like. Thank You for letting me look at your frightening
blue sky without fear, and your terrible world without
terror, and your loveless psychotic and hopelessly
with this love.
That insane asshole is dead
I drowned him
and he’s not coming back. Look
he has a new life
a new name
which no one knows except
the one who gave it.
If he tastes
the wine now
as he is allowed to
it won’t, I’m not saying it
turn to water
however, since You
can do anything, he
will be safe
his first breath as an infant
past the waters of birth
and his soul’s, past the death water, married–
Your words are spirit
Only say one
and he will be healed.
First the telephone went,
It was cold,
and they both went to sleep
as though dressed for a journey.
Like addictions condoned
from above evening
to come back as leaves–
the long snowy divorce. . .
That narrow bed, a cross
between an altar
and an operating table. Voice
saying, While I was alive
I loved you.
And I love you now.
Two great poets. I discovered Thomas in 2003 on a trip to the UK. While staying in Wales, I heard lectures from Damian and Jason Walford Davies on Thomas’s work, and it fundamentally changed my life. I was a lit major in college, and while T.S. Eliot’s work had pushed me toward theology, Thomas shoved me over the edge. I still read him on a weekly basis. I don’t know if there’s ever been a more brutally honest poet.
Thanks for sharing these, Jason; this is good stuff! The only poetry I’ve read recently, until this, is “Hebrew”.
These poems are mind-blowing! Thanks… I think.
A poem for the poet
A demand at the time the mind lied
In Zenith and in the name
I healed the the mind in the man
And the animal in him became tame