In this radiant new collection, Franz Wright shares his regard for life in all its forms and his belief in the promise of blessing and renewal. As he watches the “Resurrection of the little apple tree outside / my window,” he shakes off his fear of mortality, concluding “what death . . . There is only / mine / or yours,– / but the world / will be filled with the living.” In prayerlike poems he invokes the one “who spoke the world / into being” and celebrates a dazzling universe–snowflakes descending at nightfall, the intense yellow petals of the September sunflower, the planet adrift in a blizzard of stars, the simple mystery of loving other people. As Wright overcomes a natural tendency toward loneliness and isolation, he gives voice to his hope for “the only animal that commits suicide,” and, to our deep pleasure, he arrives at a place of gratitude that is grounded in the earth and its moods.
Terse and consistent, Wright's 15th book (and second from Knopf) returns to the haunted territory of The Beforelife (2001) with a wider range of formal tools. Heartfelt but often cryptic poems, split into short, sometimes even single-line stanzas, explore the poet's troubled romantic life, his self-destructive past, his attraction to a Christian God and his difficult memories of his father influential American poet James Wright (1927 1980). The younger Wright can deliver a lucid analogy in a single line ("We were/ about as useful as a hammer and nail made of gold"), or stop short in epistemological doubt: "The seeing see only this world." Some poems address James Wright directly ("At ten/ I turned you into a religion"); others take up, laconically and often powerfully, a history of substance abuse and mental illness: "Risperdal whisperdoll// all alone in the dark/ garden." "Letter" bluntly ties the speaker's Christian seeking to his sense of human loneliness: "I keep my eyes fixed on the great naked corpse, the vertical corpse/ who is said to be love/ and who spoke the world/ into being before coming here/ to be tortured and executed by it." Wright's work relies on the force of affect and personality, more than on any particular formal choice; his use of fragments can recall Jean Valentine or Donald Revell, while his psychological probing can call to mind Frank Bidart. His best work may be his least typical, as in the rhyming "Auto-Lullaby," but fans will find Wright's self-diagnostics moving throughout.