Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sunday's Mini-challenge: James Wright

Hi everyone ! I am happy to introduce you to James Wright. He is frequently referred to as one of America's finest contemporary poets. He was admired by critics and fellow poets alike for his willingness and ability to experiment with language and style, as well as for his thematic concerns. 

On December 13, 1927, James was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio. His father worked for fifty years at a glass factory, and his mother left school at fourteen to work in a laundry; neither attended school beyond the eighth grade. While in high school in 1943 Wright suffered a nervous breakdown and missed a year of school. When he graduated in 1946, a year late, he joined the army and was stationed in Japan during the American occupation. He then attended Kenyon College on the G.I. Bill, and studied under John Crowe Ransom. He graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1952, then married another Martins Ferry native, Liberty Kardules. The two traveled to Austria, where, on a Fulbright Fellowship, Wright studied the works of Theodor Storm and Georg Trakl at the University of Vienna. He returned to the U.S. and earned master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Washington, studying with Theodore Roethkeand Stanley Kunitz. He went on to teach at The University of Minnesota, Macalester College, and New York City’s Hunter College.

The poverty and human suffering Wright witnessed as a child profoundly influenced his writing and he used his poetry as a mode to discuss his political and social concerns. He modeled his work after Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, whose engagement with profound human issues and emotions he admired. The subjects of Wright’s earlier books, The Green Wall (winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, 1957) and Saint Judas (1959), include men and women who have lost love or have been marginalized from society for such reasons as poverty and sexual orientation, and they invite the reader to step in and experience the pain of their isolation. Wright possessed the ability to reinvent his writing style at will, moving easily from stage to stage. His earlier work adheres to conventional systems of meter and stanza, while his later work exhibits more open, looser forms, as with The Branch Will Not Break (1963). James Wright was elected a fellow of the Academy of American Poets in 1971, and the following year his Collected Poems received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He died in New York City on Martch 25, 1980.

Here are three poems:


The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.   
The dark wheat listens.
Be still.
There they are, the moon's young, trying
Their wings.
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
Or move.
I listen.
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.

Butterfly Fish

Not five seconds ago, I saw him flutter so quick
And tremble with so mighty a trembling,
He was gone.
He left this clear depth of coral
Between his moments.
Now, he is here, back,
Slow and lazy.
He knows already he is so alive he can leave me alone,
Peering down, holding his empty mountains.
Happy in easy luxury, he grazes up his tall corals,
Slim as a stallion, serene on his far-off hillside,
His other world where I cannot see
His secret face.
By James Wright [From This Journey: Poems by James Wright (Vintage Books, Random House, New York, New York: 1982]

To the Muse

It is all right. All they do
Is go in by dividing
One rib from another. I wouldn’t   
Lie to you. It hurts
Like nothing I know. All they do   
Is burn their way in with a wire.
It forks in and out a little like the tongue   
Of that frightened garter snake we caught   
At Cloverfield, you and me, Jenny   
So long ago.

I would lie to you
If I could.
But the only way I can get you to come up   
Out of the suckhole, the south face
Of the Powhatan pit, is to tell you   
What you know:

You come up after dark, you poise alone   
With me on the shore.   
I lead you back to this world.

Three lady doctors in Wheeling open
Their offices at night.
I don’t have to call them, they are always there.   
But they only have to put the knife once   
Under your breast.
Then they hang their contraption.
And you bear it.

It’s awkward a while. Still, it lets you   
Walk about on tiptoe if you don’t   
Jiggle the needle.
It might stab your heart, you see.
The blade hangs in your lung and the tube   
Keeps it draining.
That way they only have to stab you   
Once. Oh Jenny.

I wish to God I had made this world, this scurvy   
And disastrous place. I
Didn’t, I can’t bear it
Either, I don’t blame you, sleeping down there   
Face down in the unbelievable silk of spring,   
Muse of black sand,

I don’t blame you, I know
The place where you lie.
I admit everything. But look at me.   
How can I live without you?
Come up to me, love,
Out of the river, or I will
Come down to you.
You can read more of his works here.

Our challenge is to write a new poem or prose poem in response to James Wright's words. Some examples of responses include affirming what the speaker said or using his title or line of verse as a jumping board for your own writing.   The prompt is wide open so feel free to explore where your muse takes you.   I look forward to reading your work ~ Happy weekend to all ~ Grace (aka Heaven)


brudberg said...

Hello and happy Saturday/Sunday.. soon bedtime here.. and I think I might have come up with one..

Grace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grace said...

Looking forward to it Bjorn ~ I am still writing mine, smiles ~

Grace said...

I am running errands but will be checking back over the weekend and even in the coming days ~ Wishing you all a good day ~

Note to the spammers: I will be deleting your links so don't think the garden is unattended ~

Hannah said...

I really enjoyed learning about this poet, Grace and working with his poetry...intriguing. Thank you so much for the challenge and happy weekend to all! :)

Fireblossom said...

I didn't know this poet at all, and am glad to be introduced! I hope to be well enough by tomorrow to write something.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

An interesting challenge, and I am in much need of inspiration. Shay, I do hope you feel better tomorrow. You are missed!

hyperCRYPTICal said...

Thanks Grace for stimulating my creative juices that have lain still for quite a time!

As I have worked a night shift - must go to bed now - but wanted to post! So I will visit other poets upon rising and tomorrow morning.

Kind regards
Anna :o]

ZQ said...

Yes! James Wright should be read by all young up-coming poets... OK and by some old ones too :-)

Grace said...

Hannah, good to see you, smiles ~

Shay, I hope you feel better ~ The winter season is also hard on us ~

Sherry, looking forward to your inspired verses ~

Anna, good to see you ~

ZQ, his work are amazing to read ~ Thanks for linking up ~

Grace said...

Marcoatonio,your #10 link is not working ~

Can you please link again your post, or was this in error?

Susie Clevenger said...

What an amazing poet Grace. Thank you for introducing us to him. Shay, feel better soon!!

Anonymous said...

Hey Grace, I love James Wright, and I have written a political poem, which I confess was not written in direct response to him as he is so very lyrical, though maybe I'll link up or maybe (the more I think about it, I think I'll do this--) I'll link mine to open link and come back and write something more lyrical for him. Thanks.


Fireblossom said...

I'm late, so I'm linking it to OLM, too, if that's all right.

Anonymous said...

thanks for introducing me to this poet, Grace ~

Grace said...

Susie,it is my pleasure ~ I too am learning from these poets ~

Karin, feel free to link it ~

Of course Shay ~ I will be checking in for late entries ~

M, good to see you ~

Jennifer Wagner said...

Thanks for sharing his work, Grace, and for this challenge. I'd not heard of him before this. I enjoyed reading about him and am interested in reading more of his poetry. I'll be around this evening and tomorrow to catch up.