“A Blessing” by James Wright is maudlin crap, perhaps the worst poem ever published.
The lust for horsies and the ‘break into blossom’ trope is embarrassing in the extreme.
“Northern Pike” is a close second: “we prayed for the muskrats”
“I am so happy.” Good grief.
His football poem isn’t much better; “gallup terribly” is a trite way to describe the violence of football. One can tell he’s just a nerdy observer.
“Their women cluck like starved pullets,/Dying for love.” Lines like these are destined for the ash heap.
Don’t get me started on the treacly, self-pitying exploitation of George Doty, the executed killer.
What to do with James Wright, who is nothing more than smarmy Whitman-haiku?
[Note: No woman poet seeking entrance to the canon would be permitted to get away with Wright's metaphorical slop.]
“Depressed by a book of bad poetry…”
“I have wasted my life.”
The times (1972) were right for Whitman-haiku poetry, so James Wright’s Pulitzer is no surprise. Plus, Wright was associated with a lot of big names: Roethke, Kunitz, Tate, Berryman, Bly.
Franz faced a difficulty as a poet. His father was a name. Say what you will about Whitman-haiku, his father did it well.
Franz seems to have genuinely admired his father’s poetry and made no attempt, as a poet, to get out from under his father’s shadow.
Junior poet looks up to senior poet and uses the same straight-forward, plain-speaking, self-obsessed, sentimentality of approach: Look, reader, here is my transparent chest; take a look at what I am feeling. You might think I’d be sad—and good Lord, I have reason to be—but something about the inscrutability of the universe and my inner faith makes me happy.
Recently on Harriet, Franz Wright wrote the following, which Franz never should have written and which Harriet never should have published, and which we publish here because…oh, we forget why.
[Warning: Wright's comment on Harriet does contain abusive language]
Henry–I have no opinion about your “work”, or the “work” of others like little Kent and the others you masturbate with. My suggestion to all of you is: give up everything for the art. Everything. Can you do that? I did it 35 years ago–do you think that might have something to do with what you little whiners call “being on the inside”? I am not on the inside of shit. I gave up everything, everything, to be a poet. I lived in financial terror and homelessness, sometimes, for nearly 40 years. Can you do that? You little whining babies. –Franz Wright, 12/20/2009 Blog:Harriet
Now, that’s poetry.
Granted, it’s hyperbolic to say you gave up everything to be a poet. What does that even mean? No one wants to suffer, and to say in hindsight that you suffered for your art is arrogant, because even if you thought it were true, it can never be proven by anyone, anywhere, that the more outrageously you suffer, the better your art will be. There’s no substance to such a “brag.”
But we love the balls of it.