Negative Blue is the culmination of the cycle that won Wright the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award.
Time will append us like suit coats left out overnight
On a deck chair, loose change dead weight in the right pocket,
Silk handkerchief limp with dew,
sleeves in a slow dance with the wind.
And love will kill us--
Love, and the winds from under the earth
that grind us to grain-out.
--from "Still Life with Spring and Time to Burn"
When Charles Wright published Appalachia in 1998, it marked the completion of a nine-volume project, of which James Longenbach wrote in the Boston Review, "Charles Wright's trilogy of trilogies--call it 'The Appalachian Book of the Dead'--is sure to be counted among the great long poems of the century."
The first two of those trilogies were collected in Country Music (1982) and The World of the Ten Thousand Things (1990). Here Wright adds to his third trilogy (Chickamauga , Black Zodiac , and Appalachia ) a section of new poems that suggest new directions in the work of this sensuous, spirit-haunted poet.
The widely esteemed Virginia-based poet collects a decade's worth of striking description and laid-back meditation in this sample of work from his last three books: the energetic Chickamauga, the introspective (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) Black Zodiac and the elegiac Appalachia. Leaping and skating among apothegms and visual intricacies, Wright's skeins of beautiful lines offer the shifting emotional textures of his day-to-day thought and experience: "Into the world tumult," he advises his poems, "into the chaos of every day,/ Go quietly, quietly." "Landscape's a lever of transcendence," he writes, though elsewhere he insists he's just setting down impressions--"Journal and landscape I tried to resuscitate both." Wright's "verbal amulets" chronicle the world's imperviousness to our words for it, and our stubborn and lambent need to find those words--one description of the Blue Ridge or the Adriatic claims to respond to an ancient Chinese poet, the next to a contemporary philosopher. Wright's power lies less in whole poems than in lines within them: those linear strengths owe something to Ezra Pound, and something more to the antiphonal balances of the Psalms. Wright ends the volume with seven new short poems: sometimes lugubrious, sometimes rapturous, they focus more than ever on aging and loss--"time, the true dissolver, eats away at our fingertips." "I've talked about one thing for thirty years,/ and said it time and again," another new poem declares; in an important sense all Wright's recent career makes up one poem, a continual, often compelling exploration of seeing, thinking and the dialectic between them--at one moment Wright is declaring "Whatever has been will be again,/ unaltered, ever returning"; at the next he's drawn to the "Serenity of the rhododendrons, pink and white."