According to The New York Times, C.D. Wright “belongs to a school of exactly one.” Her nineteen books, written in a hauntingly discernable voice, leap bravely from one immersion of focus to another, often incorporating journalism, photography, and collaboration with other artists, to dig deeply into thorny subjects, from mass incarceration to the Iraq war. Elliptical by nature, yet filled with intensity and directness—Wright’s work comprises a monumental attempt to make sense of our inner and outer worlds. Consider these lines from “Key Elements of an Earthly Life,” which appeared in Tremble, the collection that many consider her breakthrough: “Everything I do is leaning toward / what we came for.” Almost twenty years after its publication, this poem remains emblematic of Wright’s own explosive presence into the poetry world: “I came to talk you into physical splendor / I do not wish to speak to your machine.” This is a voice that demands to be met face to face.
Wright was born in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Her early books are infused with the mysteries of her southern roots. Swollen creeks, blue firs, boiled peanuts, and dying towns color the deeply compelling landscapes of the Ozarks and, since then, the work has widened to include Mexico, Louisiana, New York, and her current home, Rhode Island. Wright has said, “I like to look. I really like to look.” And as the daughter of a judge and a court stenographer, it’s no surprise that she does more than look; she sees into the darkest of hearts and spaces, as in One Big Self, a collaboration with photographer Deborah Luster, which investigates the lives of Louisiana prisoners, and was awarded the Lange-Taylor Prize from Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. When Wright was awarded the 2009 International Griffin Trust Poetry Prize, the Judges’ Citation proclaimed that she “wakes the reader—from dreams of both a perfect world and one drowned in horror—to the saving beauty of clear sight.”
C.D. Wright is the recipient of the Lenore Marshall Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award for her 2010 volume, One With Others: [a little book of her days], which was also nominated for a National Book Award, and which Booklist called “sharply fractured, polyphonic, and suspenseful.” Her many distinguished honors include a Whiting Award, fellowships from the Bunting Institute and the Guggenheim Foundation, and a genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation. Wright served as Poet Laureate of Rhode Island from 1994 to 1999 and was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2013. For over thirty years, she edited Lost Roads Publishers with her husband, the poet Forrest Gander. Wright is currently the Kapstein Professor of Literary Arts at Brown University.
Poetry Center Reading:
C.D. Wright was scheduled to read at Smith April 19, 2016
This isn’t the end. It simply
cannot be the end. It is a road.
You go ahead coatless, light-
soaked, more rutilant than
the road. The soles of your shoes
sparkle. You walk softly
as you move further inside
your subject. It is a living
season. The trees are anxious
to be included. The car with fins
beams through countless
oncoming points of rage and need.
The sloughed-off cells
under our bed form little hills
of dead matter. if the most sidereal
drink is pain, the most soothing
clock is music. A poetry
of shine could come of this.
It will be predominantly
green. You will be allowed
to color in as much as you want
for green is good
for the teeth and the eyes.
From TREMBLE (Copper Canyon Press, 1996)
Lake Echo, Dear
Is the woman in the pool of light
really reading or just staring
at what is written
Is the man walking in the soft rain
naked or is it the rain
that makes his shirt transparent
The boy in the iron cot
is he asleep or still
fingering the springs underneath
Did you honestly believe
three lives could be complete
The bottle of green liquid
on the sill is it real
The bottle on the peeling sill
is it filled with green
Or is the liquid an illusion
How summer’s children turn
into fish and rain softens men
How the elements of summer
nights bid us to get down with each other
on the unplaned floor
And this feels painfully beautiful
whether or not
it will change the world one drop
From TREMBLE (Copper Canyon Press, 1996)
Dear Virtual Lifer,
This is strictly a what-if proposition:
What if I were to trade my manumission for your incarceration. If only for a day.
At the end of which the shoes must be left at the main gate to be filled by their
original occupants. There is no point and we will not shrink from it. There is
only this day to reinvent everything and lose it all over again. Nothing will be
settled or made easy.
If you were me:
If you wanted blueberries you could have a big bowl. Two dozen bushes right on
your hill. And thornless raspberries at the bottom. Walk barefooted; there’s no
glass. If you want to kiss your kid you can. If you want a Porsche, buy it on the
installment plan. You have so many good books you can’t begin to count them.
Walk the dog to the bay every living day. The air is salted. Septembers you can
hear the blues jumping before seeing water through the vault in the leaves. Watch
the wren nesting in the sculpture by the shed. Smoke if you feel like it. Or swim.
Call a friend. Or keep perfectly still. The morning’s free.
If I were you:
Screw up today, and it’s solitary, Sister Woman, the padded dress with the food log
to gnaw upon. This is where you enter the eye of the fart. The air is foul. The dirt
is gumbo. Avoid all physical contact. Come nightfall the bugs will carry you off.
You don’t have a clue, do you.
From ONE BIG SELF (Copper Canyon Press, 2003)
In the seclusionary cool of the car the mind furnishes a high-
ceilinged room with a white piano. Seldom struck. Color
sensations. In which the piano floats on a black marble lake,
mute swan in a dark room. Beyond the windshield the land
claims saturate levels of green. Illuminating figures and
objects. Astonishing our earthliness. I was there. I know.
Excerpt from DEEPSTEP COME SHINING (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
In Our Only Time
“Follow me,” the voice, the long, longed-for voice stops
the writing hand. “I have your shoes.” Except
for a rotating fan, movement at a minimum. The plan,
if one can call it a plan, is to be in what is known
to some as the perennial present; beginning
with a few sentences written in a kitchen while others
cling to their own images in twisted sheets of heat.
A napkin floats from a counter in lieu of a letter. Portals
of the back life part in silence: O verge
of song, O big eyelets of daylight. Leaving milk and bowl
on the table, leaving the house discalced. All this
mystery, mildly erotic. Even if one is terrified
of both death and the color red. Even if a message is sent
each of us in secrecy, no one can make it stay.
Notwithstanding scale—everything has its meaning,
everything matters; no one a means every one an end
From COOLING TIME (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)