Monday, April 25, 2005

Dark blood in my body

Lately I have heard people, in blogs and elsewhere, talking about James Wright. The most recent occasion was Alison Stine's blog, in which she talks about opening the book and using a line from a poem of his to lead her through the night.

I do that a lot with the work of James Wright. The book Above the River is never far fom my reach, and my copy is so dogeared and useless that really there's little point in me trying to find anything special. It's better to just open up and read.

The thing I love about Wright is that time after time in his poems I find that he has said the unsayable. In my life, this is what I am going for--in the poem, in the process of creating the poem something takes over (Muse? Metaphor? Grace?) and allows you to utter things that are nearly inartculate they are so right. I know this sounds like bull, but anyone who is a writer will understand, I bet. It's like being blind, or being lost at the same time you know exactly where you are. This makes his poems hard to talk about it, but when I have been looking at them for a while they sort of lock into place and are perfect, and make perfect sense.

Here's a favorite:

As I Step over a Puddle at the End
of Winter, I Think of an
Ancient Chinese Governor

And how can I, born in evil days
And fresh from failure, ask a kindness of fate?
--Written A.D. 819

Po Chu-i, balding old politician,
What's the use?
I think of you,
Uneasily entering the gorges of the Yang-Tze,
When you were being towed up the rapids
Toward some political job or other
In the city of Chungshou.
You made it, I guess,
By dark.

But it is 1960, it is almost spring again,
And the tall rocks of Minneapolis
Build me my own twilight
Of bamboo ropes and black waters.
Where is Yuan Chen, the friend you loved?
Where is the sea, that once solved the whole loneliness
Of the Midwest? Where is Minneapolis? I can see nothing
But the great terrible oak tree darkening with winter.
Did you find the city of isolated men beyond the mountains?
Or have you been holding the end of a frayed rope
For a thousand years?


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