August always has me revisiting Charles Wright’s work as well as the work of other August babies like me.
This week’s poem is from his book Sestets in which he does marvels six lines at a time. Here, he takes us from a sunset sky to an implication of the soul as a canary and the body as “underground.” All the while, the lyric is suspended in an intimate, almost conspiratorial tone.
Yellow Wings – Charles Wright
When the sun goes down – and you happen to notice it –
And the sky is clear, there’s always a whitish light
edging the earth’s offerings.
This is the lost, impermanent light
The soul is pulled towards, and longs for, deep in its cave,
This is the light its wings dissolve in
if it ever gets out from underground.
p.s. In coming up with the title of this week’s post, I came across an actual practice referred to as “souling,” a medieval belief “that for every piece of bread given to the poor a soul could be redeemed from the fire of Hell.” Read more from the site that schooled me here.
This week I’d like to celebrate Charles Wright being named the new U.S. Poet Laureate.
I’ve always suspected him to be an introvert, but his reaction to the news sinches it:
At times self-effacing, Wright shies away from the public eye and was reluctant to take the post. “My wife kept nudging me to do it and also others have said, ‘You know, you should do it.’ And I hadn’t done it before when it was offered to me and I always felt sort of bad about that — that I snuck into the shadows where I am more comfortable,” Wright said to Jeffrey Brown in a phone conversation on Wednesday. “I’m going to try to pull up my socks here and see what happens.” *
The poem below is from Wright’s book, Sestets, and speaks to the feeling of the reserved, quiet kid speaking up in class that the above quote rings with.
It’s Sweet to be Remembered – Charles Wright
No one’s remembered much longer than a rock
is remembered beside the road
If he’s lucky or
Some tune or harsh word
uttered in childhood or back in the day.
Still how nice to imagine some kid someday
picking that rock up and holding it in his hand
Briefly before he chucks it
Deep in the woods in a sunny spot in the tall grass.
* Read the rest of the article on the big news here.
Snow is starting to become a regular thing in our neighborhood.
Ani and I remarked on (read: laughed at) our mutual inexperience earlier this week when we began to see little bits of the stuff flying about one afternoon.
What is that? Is thatfluff? Gotta be, like cotton, or foam, something, right?
I won’t say who said what: we’re both guilty. And the conversation – with large gaps of silence in between statements of disbelief – went on longer than it should have.
My defense: We live on the second floor so there was a buoyancy to those first flakes that seemed suspect. Between New Mexico and blizzards in NYC, I’ve spent a good ten years moving through snow, putting on boots, bundling up, and the rest. But that’s a matter of snow as presence.
Snow as verb, however… well, it got me this week.
The poem below by Charles Wright is fortifying given the months ahead of us. Wright is a mystic – and in this short poem (from his collection Sestets) he conjures up what the snow itself conjures inside a person.
On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee – Charles Wright
It’s dark now, the horses have had their half apple,
mist and rain,
Horses down in the meadow, just a few degrees above snow.
I stand in front of the propane stove, warming my legs.
I love to watch the swallows at sundown, swarming after invisible things to eat. Were we so lucky, A full gullet, and never having to look at what it is, Sunshine all over our backs.
There are no words between my fingers Populating the lost world. Something, it now seems, has snapped them up Into its speechlessness, into its thick aphasia.
It’s got to be the Unredeemable Bird, come out From the weight of the unbearable. It flaps like a torn raincoat, first this side, then that side. Words are its knot of breath, language is what it lives on.
This week on the Influence: Charles Wright.
To get a little astrological for a moment, every poet I enjoy that falls under the Virgo sign shares a common experience in the reading of their work, namely that you must read a lot of it, really dunk in your head, before it truly becomes accessible.
This isn’t a matter of difficulty or obscurity in the poems.
Take William Carlos Williams, whose “This is just to say” and “The Red Wheelbarrow” are famously accessible and amazing.
I had enjoyed his poems for years but it wasn’t until I sat down with a copy of his selected poems and read it aloud cover to cover that I felt that I truly felt what he was doing in his poems. About ten pages in I started to see the working of a mind, a sensibility and conviction about the world that played out in poems full of images and clear phrasing.
I have had a similar experience with the work of Charles Wright.
Every book I read of his takes me down into another level of where his poetic self lives. It is a world of metaphysics, Li Po and other classical Chinese poets, the South, and, amongst various other things, a genuine understanding of the tenuous and precious hold we have on reality.
Also, he claims that he is the only Southerner he knows incapable of telling a story. A true Virgo admission.
He recently did a book entitled “Sestets” where he funnels his poetic sensibilities down into six line poems that bang and spark.
In my notebook where I wrote down the above poem last December, I wrote: the shorter, more focused his work gets, the more I tune my ears to it. Here something sensual leads to something that opens and expands in the mind. I still feel that way. Poetry like the sounding of a church bell, telling you the time, the sound expanding into time.