Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, January 7, 2008

Charles Wright

I've been reading Charles Wright's Appalachia (1998), a fine book of poems. Wright's work has won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer. He has a distinctive way of phrasing his poems so that they seem "spoken" casually but are actually quite precise. He really likes to spread the poems out on the page, too. The poems in this book mix meditations on landscape with those on death and art, and Wright seems especially interested in boundaries and interfaces between mind and landscape, body and landscape, perception and nature, and that old stand-by, mutability.

I especially like these lines from the poem, "Body Language":

The human body is not the world, and yet it is.
The world contains it, and is itself contained. Just so.
The distance between the two
Is like the distance between the no and the yes,
abysmal distance.

I typed those last two words as they appear--one space to the right of the comma after "yes," but dropped one line; but I fear the blog-program will move the lines to the left margin.

Most of the poems are in first person, present tense, in the poet's voice or persona, and that persona does a lot of sitting, then getting up to look outside, or to walk outside and look at leaves or stars or landscapes. I found this a wee bit repetitive, but then all poets repeat themselves, have their obsessions. The clarity and intelligence of the poems in this book are memorable and admirable, though--no doubt about that. A very satisfying read. I'm glad I picked up (and paid for!) the volume today at a used-bookstore.
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