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C. D. Wright: Dear Poet 2015

About this poet

C. D. Wright was born in Mountain Home, Arkansas, on January 6, 1949. She received a BA degree from Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) in 1971 and an MFA from the University of Arkansas in 1976.

She has published numerous volumes of poetry, including ShallCross (Copper Canyon Press, 2016); One With Others (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), which received the 2011 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the National Book Critics Circle Award; 40 Watts (Octopus Books, 2009); Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), which won the 2009 International Griffin Poetry Prize; Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (Copper Canyon Press, 2005); One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (Copper Canyon Press, 2003), with photographer Deborah Luster, which won the Lange-Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University; and Steal Away: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2002).

Her other books include Deepstep Come Shining (Copper Canyon Press, 1998); Tremble (Ecco Press, 1996); Just Whistle: A Valentine (Kelsey St. Press, 1993); String Light (University of Georgia Press, 1991), which won the Poetry Center Book Award; Further Adventures with You (Carnegie Mellon, 1986); and Translation of the Gospel Back into Tongues (State University of New York Press, 1981). She has also published two state literary maps, one for Arkansas, her native state, and one for Rhode Island, her adopted state.

Her collection of essays, The Poet, The Lion, Taking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All Paperback was published in January, also by Copper Canyon.

While much of Wright's early work is narrative in content, her later poetry is characterized by experimental forms, sharp wit, and a strong sense of place, most notably rooted in Mexico, the Ozarks, and Rhode Island. "Poetry is a necessity of life," Wright has said. "It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so."

About her work, a reviewer for The New Yorker wrote: "Wright has found a way to wed fragments of an iconic America to a luminously strange idiom, eerie as a tin whistle, which she uses to evoke the haunted quality of our carnal existence."

Among her numerous honors are a Lannan Literary Award, the 2005 Robert Creeley Award, a Whiting Award, the Witter Bynner Prize, and fellowships from the Bunting Institute, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She served as state poet of Rhode Island from 1994 to 1999.

In 2013, Wright was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Anne Waldman praised her selection, saying: "Brilliantly astute, generous, witty, panoramic, celebratory, C. D. Wright is one of our most fearless writers, possessed with an urgency that pierces through the darkness of our time. She carries a particular Southern demographic that bears witness, that investigates history, humanity, and consciousness in powerfully innovative, often breathtaking language. Hers is a necessary poetics, on fire with life and passion for what matters."

She was the former coeditor—with her husband, poet Forrest Gander—of Lost Roads Publishers. Wright taught at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. She passed away on January 12, 2016. 

 

 


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
ShallCross (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
One With Others (Copper Canyon Press, 2010)
40 Watts (Octopus Books, 2009)
Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon Press, 2008)
Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, with Deborah Luster, (Copper Canyon Press, 2003)
Steal Away: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)
Deepstep Come Shining (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
Tremble (Ecco Press, 1996)
Just Whistle: A Valentine (Kelsey St. Press, 1993)
String Light (University of Georgia Press, 1991)
Further Adventures with You (Carnegie Mellon, 1986)
Translation of the Gospel Back into Tongues (State University of New York Press, 1981)
Terrorism (Lost Roads Press, 1979)
Room Rented By A Single Woman (Lost Roads Press, 1977)

Prose
The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
The Lost Roads Project: A Walk-In Book of Arkansas (University of Arkansas, 2009)

 

Like Hearing Your Name Called in a Language You Don’t Understand

Since the day the bell was cast

I have sat in the bishop’s carved chair and waited my turn

with my feet crossed at the ankles, and the leather of my huaraches

cutting into the hide of my foot.

From where I was sitting I watched the light being drawn off

the magnolias in the Plaza de Armas

while the voices of the others choired an evening.

I have risen to the lectern when the eyes of the host summoned.

I faced the great open doors as the faces of strangers
acknowledged their own losses.

I saw the white trousers of the vendor flapping in the dust

his body engulfed in balloons,

the children selling Chiclets dispersed;

the shoe shine boy putting away his brushes, the sum of his inheritance.

I have read what was written there, said, Gracias, and sat down again.

I have climbed the pyramidal steps and felt winded and humbled.

I have stood small and borracha and been glad
of not being thrown down the barranca alongside the pariah consul
in the celebrated book.

In every sense have I felt lonelier than a clod of clay, a whip, a bolsa,
a skull of chocolate.

I have been lured my host’s pellucid face and the blue salvia
where the rooster is buried.


Though I have worn the medal of the old town with forlorn pleasure
I say unto you:


     Comrades, be not in mourning for your being

     To express happiness and expel scorpions is the best job on earth.

 

From Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon Press, 2008) by C. D. Wright. Copyright @2008 by C. D. Wright. Used with permission of the author.

From Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon Press, 2008) by C. D. Wright. Copyright @2008 by C. D. Wright. Used with permission of the author.

C. D. Wright

C. D. Wright

Author of numerous volumes of poetry, Wright served as the poet laureate of Rhode Island, and in 2013 was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem

Whether or not the water was freezing. The body

would break its sheathe. Without layer on layer

of feather and air to insulate the loving belly.

A cloudy film surrounding the point of entry. If blue

were not blue how could love be love. But if the body

were made of rings. A loose halo

2
poem
A girl on the stairs listens to her father
Beat up her mother.
Doors bang.
She comes down in her nightgown.

The piano stands there in the dark 
Like a boy with an orchid.

She plays what she can
Then she turns the lamp on.

Her mother's music is spread out
On the floor like brochures.

She hears her father
2
poem

Whether or not the park was safe

she was going in. A study concluded, for a park

to be successful there had to be women.

The man next to the monument must have broken

away from her. Perhaps years

before. That the bond had been carnal is obvious.

He said he was just out clearing

2