by Keith Taylor
In her recent book Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil, C. D. Wright quotes pianist Glenn Gould: "The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline, but a gradual lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity." If Wright, in one of the major poetic pilgrimages of our time, has not found serenity, she has certainly explored the wonder and found a way, entirely her own, to bring her readers into it.
Although the winner of just about every award a poet can win, including a MacArthur "genius" grant, and a writer who has always stressed her connection to a couple of very specific places (the Ozarks of Arkansas, where she
grew up, and Rhode Island, where she has lived for many years while teaching at Brown University), Wright has often been described as an "elliptical" or "oblique" or "difficult" poet. It is true that Wright often doesn't provide the connecting links between parts of her poems, but a reader willing to follow her jumps of perception will find the poems as easy to read as Robert Frost's. Wright worked out this method most clearly in Deepstep Come Shining, a 1998 book-length reflection on the American South and on the nature of her own memory.
She has since continued to explore these kinds of connections, particularly in One Big Self, a 2003 book that grew out of a collaboration with a photographer in the Louisiana prisons. It would be misleading to describe this book as a documentary poem, yet there is something of the documentary method in it. She includes quotes from different texts (even going back to Paul Verlaine and Oscar Wilde, great jailed poets of the nineteenth century), lots of quotes from prisoners she talked with, impressions from the roads and the advertising she saw around the prisons, and lyrical snatches from her own memory. Although there are no obvious links between the parts, there is an undeniable
| It sure enough gets old |
the way we do things
Defend me if you can
Collect my tears if you will
G-o-d is the boss with the sauce
he's too sweet to be sour
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