February 4, 2011AWP ConferenceOmni Shoreham HotelWashington, D.C.

About this poet

Born on August 25, 1935, in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee, Charles Wright was educated at Davidson College and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He began to read and write poetry while stationed in Italy during his four years of service in the U.S. Army, and published his first collection of poems, The Grave of the Right Hand (Wesleyan University Press), in 1970. His second and third collections, Hard Freight (1973) and Country Music: Selected Early Poems (1983), were both nominated for National Book Awards; the latter received the prize.

Since then, Wright has published numerous collections of poems, most recently Caribou (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014); Bye-and-Bye: Selected Late Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011); Outtakes (Sarabande, 2010); Sestets: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009); Littlefoot: A Poem (2008); Scar Tissue (2007), which was the international winner for the Griffin Poetry Prize; The Wrong End of the Rainbow (Sarabande, 2005); Buffalo Yoga (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004); Negative Blue (2000); Appalachia (1998); Black Zodiac (1997), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Chickamauga (1995), which won the 1996 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets; The World of the Ten Thousand Things: Poems 1980-1990 (1990); and Zone Journals (1988).

Wright has also written two volumes of criticism: Halflife (1988) and Quarter Notes (1995) and has translated the work of Dino Campana in Orphic Songs (Oberlin College Press, 1984) as well as Eugenio Montale's The Storm and Other Poems (1978), which was awarded the PEN Translation Prize.

He taught at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville as the Souder Family Professor of English. His many honors include the 2013 Bollingen Prize, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit Medal, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In 1999 he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and served until 2002. In 2014, he was appointed United States Poet Laureate. 


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Caribou (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2014)
Bye-and-Bye: Selected Late Poems (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2012)
Sestets (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2009)
Littlefoot ((Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2007)
Scar Tissue (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2006)
Buffalo Yoga (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2004)
A Short History of the Shadow (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2002)
Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2000)
Appalachia (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1998)
Black Zodiac (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1997)
Chickamauga (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1995)
The World of Ten Thousand Things: Poems, 1980-1990 (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1990)
Country Music: Selected Early Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1982)

Body and Soul II

Charles Wright, 1935

(for Coleman Hawkins)

The structure of landscape is infinitesimal,
Like the structure of music,
                            seamless, invisible.
Even the rain has larger sutures.
What holds the landscape together, and what holds music together,
Is faith, it appears--faith of the eye, faith of the ear.
Nothing like that in language,
However, clouds chugging from west to east like blossoms
Blown by the wind.
                 April, and anything's possible.

Here is the story of Hsuan Tsang.
A Buddhist monk, he went from Xian to southern India
And back--on horseback, on camel-back, on elephant-back, and on 
                                                               foot.
Ten thousand miles it took him, from 629 to 645, 
Mountains and deserts, 
In search of the Truth,
                    the heart of the heart of Reality,
The Law that would help him escape it,
And all its attendant and inescapable suffering.
                                               And he found it.

These days, I look at things, not through them,
And sit down low, as far away from the sky as I can get.
The reef of the weeping cherry flourishes coral,
The neighbor's back porch light bulbs glow like anemones.
Squid-eyed Venus floats forth overhead.
This is the half hour, half-light, half-dark,
                            when everything starts to shine out,
And aphorisms skulk in the trees,
Their wings folded, their heads bowed.

Every true poem is a spark,
              and aspires to the condition of the original fire
Arising out of the emptiness.
It is that same emptiness it wants to reignite.
It is that same engendering it wants to be re-engendered by.
Shooting stars.
April's identical,
             celestial, wordless, burning down.
Its light is the light we commune by.
Its destination's our own, its hope is the hope we live with.

Wang Wei, on the other hand, 
Before he was 30 years old bought his famous estate on the Wang River 
Just east of the east end of the Southern Mountains,
                                                     and lived there,
Off and on, for the rest of his life.
He never travelled the landscape, but stayed inside it,
A part of nature himself, he thought.
And who would say no
To someone so bound up in solitude,
                           in failure, he thought, and suffering.

Afternoon sky the color of Cream of Wheat, a small 
Dollop of butter hazily at the western edge.
Getting too old and lazy to write poems,
                                      I watch the snowfall
From the apple trees.
Landscape, as Wang Wei says, softens the sharp edges of isolation.

Excerpted from A Short History of the Shadow by Charles Wright. Copyright © 2002 by Charles Wright. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. All rights reserved.

Charles Wright

Charles Wright

Born in 1935, Charles Wright is the author of several books of poetry and has received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the Pulitzer Prize

by this poet

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poem

Bowls will receive us,
                                        and sprinkle black scratch in our eyes.
Later, at the great fork on the untouchable road,
It won't matter where we have become.

Unburdened by prayer, unburdened by any supplication,
Someone will take our hand,
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