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James Wright, James A Wright, James Arlington Wright

Featured Poet:  James Wright

 

How does a great poet think? How does he evolve his artistic gifts? There is something about the very form and occasion of a letter--the possibility it offers, the chance to be as open and tentative and uncertain as one likes and also the chance to formulate certain ideas, very precisely--if one is lucky in one's thoughts," wrote James Wright, one of the great lyric
 

poets of the last century, in a letter to a friend. A Wild Perfection is a compelling collection that captures the exhilarating and moving correspondence between Wright and his many friends. In letters to fellow poets Donald Hall, Theodore Roethke, Galway Kinnell, James Dickey, Mary Oliver, and Robert Bly, Wright explored subjects from his creative process to his struggles with depression and illness.

A bright thread of wit, gallantry, and passion for describing his travels and his beloved natural world runs through these letters, which begin in 1946 in Martin's Ferry, Ohio, the hometown he would memorialize in verse, and end in New York City, where he lived for the last fourteen years of his life. Selected Letters is no less than an epistolary chronicle of a significant part of the midcentury American poetry renaissance, as well as the clearest biographical picture now available of a major American poet.
   

Lucky Me! Last January, I sat in an auditorium in Bennington Vermont and heard Robert Bly and Donald Hall offer a their first person reflections on the life and writing of James Wright. With recent releases of works and letters of

My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of  Joy

Iron John

The Urge To Travel Long Distances

 Wright, it seems appropriate to feature this poet who stood mired in a life of suffering, yet always found a way to delicately touch the authenticity of life.

Bly  interspersed his conversation with impromptu recitations. His booming and raspy voice emphasized the epiphanic twists common to Wright’s work. Bly elevated his palm the entire distance of his tall arm in a swoosh, which I believe I heard. "Verticality" he said. There is a moment in Wright’s poetry where the readers’ mind is twisted. The readers’ thoughts tread new ground; the metaphor changes the reader.

One of the lasting impressions from Donald Hall’s recollections was of Wright's dear wife, Anne. According to Hall, she helped

The Best Day The Worst Day; Life with Jane Kenyon  

The Museum of Clear Ideas
Life Work

him to find a wholeness he’d never known, or perhaps, she only kept him from coming completely apart. As Hall, lost his wife,  poet Jane Kenyon, to a virulent cancer, he seemed to

Jane Kenyon

Otherwise

 have a special appreciation of the contribution a spouse can make in the life of an artist.  My synopsis of Hall’s rendering was that Wright was a tortured soul, under appreciated by his University employers and stressed by his manic depression. His work, however, is not bathed in the pathos of suffering; it is the work  of a man seeking meaning in the beauty of the world and in the power of poetry. He found it.

----Amy L Jenkins

More Poetry by the Pulitzer-Winning Poet, James Wright