Wednesday, August 6, 2014

it isn't that easy

"I used to think the power of words was inexhaustible,
That how we said the world
          was how it was, and how it would be.
I used to imagine that word-sway and word-thunder
Would silence the Silence and all that,
That worlds were the Word,
That language could lead us inexplicably to grace,
As though it were geographical.
I used to think these things when I was young.
            I still do."

- Charles Wright


I've been thinking about the poems of Charles Wright a lot lately. I think it's safe to say I've read almost everything he's written. Nearly all. I'd be reading his poetry even if he hadn't been appointed the U.S. poet laureate. 

From a piece on the PBS Newshour:

“Most of my poems start with me looking out the window or sitting in the backyard as dusk comes down, and what that sort of translates into — into my thinking at the moment,” Wright said. “We have more to say when we’re younger. We have better things to say when we’re older, not necessarily more.”

And also:

“I’m very attuned to what I look at, and landscape is something that’s quite ravishing to me and seductive. And I’m always looking at and thinking about how the exterior landscape reflects the interior and vice versa. And almost all my poems begin with something I’ve seen, something observed as opposed to some idea I have for a poem.” He went on to say, “I’m a closet painter, but I can’t paint, and so I’m stuck with what I have, which is language.”

And this:

“Well I would actually prefer all my work to be anonymous and to be discovered in a monastery about 500 years from now.”

Well, that sounds about right. 

I would have to say that Charles Wright has been one of my influences. He fits right in with Helene Cixous, Clarice Lispector, Kristjana Gunnars, Tim Lilburn, Rumi Adam Zagajewski and others. His words aren't always soothing, but his tone is. The persistence of thought. "Doggedly sur le motif," which must be his words on Cezanne but I can't find them at present.

How many years have I been sitting in my own backyard, reading Charles Wright's musings often from his backyard? And also, about art. Quite honestly, I think for me he's one of the few poets who gets the whole 'writing about art' thing right. Never pretentious, he's just feeling his way into the work. And besides:

"The poem is a self-portrait
                                             always, no matter what mask
You take off and put back on."

"I have tried to devote myself to simplicity," he says in his latest book, Caribou Poems. "But it isn't that easy."

And it isn't that easy, but let's go on trying anyway.

When you take down all the Charles Wright books you happen to own off your shelf, and you start flipping through them some early morning, late summer, you might start to wish you'd been a different writer, a different poet yourself. A better one. More consistent, less full of doubt. More dogged. True to your themes. Beautifully relentless.

Of course, it's not possible to go back, just forward, always forward.

But I can't help wishing I'd sat in my backyard more, looked out the window more in winter, though I've done what I could I suppose.

Last night, I came home from work, nearly 10pm. A little past dusk. Dragged Rob and Chloe out there, talked for a bit. Ace there also. I told them about some of the encounters I had at the library on my shift, how it ended with a really tall guy, regular customer, giving me half a hug and saying thanks for being so sweet to me. Earlier, I'd asked him if he was okay, just that, because he seemed unwell, not his usual self, as though he was inhabiting a slightly different dimension. Reminding me that all the people are poetry, in some way, some form.

And so here's the yard, again, which changes every day, summer and winter. So much to observe, the impulse is not to take your eyes off of it. But, oh yes, life intervenes. As it must. 

The peonies, after blooming:

My view when I'm reading or writing out there:

Last breaths:

Bright beginnings:

The poppies grown from seeds, opening, closing:

Along the back fence:

The cherries, ripening:


  1. Have read very little of Charles Wright, but love "Clear Night." Lovely post! Toward simplicity.

  2. Attuned is an understatement when it comes to your words and images, Shawna.

    1. What a nice thing to say! Thanks, Susan.


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