James and Franz Wright, poets, and miserable sons-of-bitches.

“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.


  1. dmanister said,

    December 23, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I love a sorehead! It’s terrific that he snarked whining poets — nobody put a gun to their heads and told them to write poetry. Good for Franz!

  2. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 24, 2009 at 4:46 am

    Frankly, I was really upset by this recent post on Harriet and wondered how in the climate of fear and repression at The Poetry Foundation of America such language has survived the censor. I mean, compared to what we were saying back in August it’s treason — we were banned altogether for much, much gentler subversion!

    So wipe it out, Travis, wipe it out for God’s sake!

    Hey Franz, I forgot to mention my dramatic adolescent spiritual experiences, & my return to religious faith, & my love & gratitude to God, & the relation of all that to my writing, which I know you have also been through, seriously… but let’s leave that for another time. When we get off the Pelham subway.
    Report this comment

    I hope all of you reported this comment, and trust the Harriet Management is doing something about it.

    After all, it took them just 14 hours to deal with W.F.Kammann in the Boardroom, yet this attack on all our American values has been permitted to stand for almost a week now. Must be a serious discussion involving the whole PFoA, possibly right up to John Barr even, and including arrangements for an actual wipe out.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    December 24, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    So, Christopher, you the banished one, believe in SOME censorship?

    I guess I agree…even the banned ones must contemplate banning…

    Your call to Travis to “wipe it out” is strange, though…there is a perfectionism in you, my friend, which chills my blood! (just kidding) but I do find your position in your comment above a little disquieting…

    It was slightly nutty for Gould and Franz to go at each other re: some nasty business from another site altogether and Harriet looks the other way…perhaps it’s the Pulitzer which gives one carte blanche….

    What do you mean by “this attack on all our American values” ???

    Please explain that one.

  4. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 24, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    It’s pathetic Pathetic Fallacy, Tom — indeed, it’s a wishful-thinking misreading, and I do apologize. I allowed myself to think I could out-think Henry Gould, oooh — it was me assuming Henry Gould was being cynical, whereas now I see he really meant what he said, and that it was I myself who was not prepared to make such a leap of faith. He wasn’t making fun of spiritual experiences in adolescence at all, and certainly in his earlier childhood he must have flown at least as far as he mocks Franz Wright for doing. How else could you explain his sensitivity and courage in challenging the Once-Born as he did? I mean, this is surely two black angels cheek to cheek on the threshing floor!

    Yes, I assumed Henry Gould was mocking American spiritual values, religious faith, and gratitude to God — all those special qualities that lie behind our best and truest poets. I know Travis Nichols takes seriously The Poetry Foundation’s obligation to protect and advance such qualities in contemporary poetry, not heard of in letters since Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Butler Yeats and Madame Blavatsky.

    On the other hand, I have great respect for Franz Wright, I really do, and always look forward to reading more of his poetry. I believe in him and trust him and the trials that have made him who he is. I just wish he, like Henry Gould, didn’t have to protest quite so much!

    And do I believe there is a point at which the censor must move in? Only if I put myself in the censor’s shoes, which I did when I wrote that comment. I was just thinking that if I were Travis Nichols and had banned Thomas Brady and Christopher Woodman for what they stood for, surely I’d have to pummel Henry Gould for not standing for anything at all!

    But then I’d never let myself get into such narrow, anxious, thankless shoes!


  5. thomasbrady said,

    December 24, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Ah, yes, American values: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Juliet Ward Howe, Toni Morrison and…Madame Blavatsky! Don’t forget Alistair Crowley and Charles Manson. Christopher, you are ‘one-of-a-kind, and I love you.

    Gould is good, but throws pearls before swine. How could he hope to impress Franz in such a manner? He must be out of his mind. Trying to please Franz, I imagine Gould in yellow garters, leaning delicately in and whispering seductive odes to a snapping turtle. “I, too, am like you, Mr. Turtle! I grew in the mud; I, too, have a very hard shell, but in my heart…” Gould would be Samuel Johnson to a nursery school.

  6. Franz Wright said,

    January 13, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Poor children of the Reagan 80s and the MFA machine–this commentary is pathetic beyond comprehension. Imagine Rimbaud, Blake, D. H. Lawrence and Kerouac reading this shit. What to say to you? Happy Oblivion? Happy being dead before you even die? FW

  7. thomasbrady said,

    January 13, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Look! It’s the snapping turtle!

    Uh…Scarriet is dismantling the MFA/suck-up/ blurb machine.

    Reagan v. Rimbaud???

    A facile comparison of Reagan v. Rimbaud is PRECISELY what the Poetry MFA would make in their defense. More MFA twits hide behind Rimbaud than Reagan—if we can put any stock in that comparison at all.

    This medium isn’t for you. You have prizes and nice poems in nice books. You have nothing to gain and everything to lose in coming here. Already our enemies hate you, I’m sure, for noticing us. Sorry. It’s lose/lose for you.

    I admit it; we’re using your dad and you, shamelessly. Grist for the mill. Yea, we’re not sentimental. We tell it like it is here. Just like Rimbaud and Blake and Lawrence and Kerouac…

  8. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 13, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    It’s all very complicated, Franz, and although I’m not quite as old as your dad would have been had he been still living, I’m not far off.

    So listen.

    It’s all very complicated which is, of course, precisely why we need poetry — the only form of expression in which you can say anything you want to and then contradict it without any loss of face or need for apology, like Tom does. Then you can erase it, start again, rejoice and then suffer and regret it or publish the copy you kept for the record. And all of that confusion can help to make sense out of it too, providing you shut up and give it some space.

    I for one like your poetry very much, and admire you and your struggle — but I don’t get at all why you’re so angry, or why you bother with these people. Indeed, I suspect that’s really what Tom is getting at, your anger at these people — and the sense it gives that you’re much too involved with your own image. No poet who really lives for poetry would ever say he does, for example, because he’d be way beyond such a preposterous, adolescent piece of schtick, and most likely wouldn’t even be writing anymore. Yes, there’s a pose in you for sure, and as long as there is you will always be, as Tom say, grist for the mill.


    I’m no fan of Henry Gould’s partly because he’s a poseur too, and pretends he’s honest and straightforward when, if he were, he’d be silent or start writing something with some heart in it — like we do and you do.

    You’re way ahead of Henry Gould and Kent Johnson, Franz, so why do you bother with them? What’s in it for you? That’s what Tom means, I think

    So Henry’s good when he says:

    Franz Wright can speak crudely & haughtily & disdainfully… yet he was com­municating a principle (let’s call it the corruption-of-poetic value-by-superficial-&-complacent-intellectual-blather principle). & I would say that while he has a very strong intuitive poetic gift & sensibility – just as his father did – he’s certainly not wise to the ways of glib internet back & forth : or, he simply rejects those ways.

    O.k. so far, but then his own pose gets in the way– and oh my, oh my, oh my:

    Ultimately however there is something above & beyond poetry, above & beyond ourselves, to which we ought to devote our hearts & minds & souls & strength. & this is the source that brings peace & rest & delight & wisdom & courage & &…. Franz or Henry or Kent or Michael or anyone may, in their inner most counsel & deepest heart, hold some person or truth or principle in the pinnacle of honor & personal devotion, their holiest of holies…

    And that’s bullshit because if he had any feeling for it he’d never mangle it like that throwing up a little in his mouth. He’s trying NOT to talk MFA twit-talk, that’s what he’s doing, trying NOT to sound like Kent and Stephen but like somebody you’d actually like. And that’s disgraceful, and you should despise him for it — and I hope he’s really embarrassed.


  9. thomasbrady said,

    January 13, 2010 at 6:28 pm


    You wrote, “So listen” and “I for one like your poetry very much, and admire you and your struggle — but I don’t get at all why you’re so angry”

    Mr. Wright did not come here to receive a lecture or be flattered. He came here to pull down his pants and dump on us.

    Mr. Wright is invested in himself. He parades his suffering around and you know what—to hell with his suffering. I feel it’s in very poor taste. Plenty of people have suffered more. That’s why he’s “angry.” He’s “angry” because he’s an infant. He’s been crapped on by his dad, or someone, and that’s too bad, but it’s not our problem, you know?

    And whether you like his poetry or not is completely beside the point. Just because you’re a good poet doesn’t mean you can be a douchebag. That goes for Rimbaud and DH Lawrence and Kerouac and everyone else, too.

    And there’s a big spectrum of what’s “good” poetry.

    And the better it is, the kinder.


    • Christopher Woodman said,

      January 21, 2010 at 2:57 am

      You have to be careful, Tom, because it’s so easy to miss that little pink slippery thing in the bath water you’re chucking out the back door.

      When anybody speaks directly they’re always vulnerable, which is one of the main reasons so many sensitive people end up as cynics — unless they’re stupid, of course, or gluttons for punishment, or naive…

      Like the American academic insistence that a poem must never be “didactic,” which is really an expression of the fear that you actually do have to have something say when you say poetry, that just saying it alone is rarely enough. American academics teach that poetry is about poetry because they own the poetry mill and want to be sure that any attempt to make their product relevant will not detract from their monopoly on where it’s made, what it consists of, and of course the legal description.

      Show me the great sonnet that hasn’t got something to say, which is the whole point of the dynamic of the sonnet, isn’t it? Isn’t that the sonnet’s intention, and logic? Or show me the poem of Yeats or Millay, Auden or Heaney that doesn’t take a stand and proclaim it?

      To dismiss what I tried to say to Franz Wright as “lecturing” is as unfair as saying Franz Wright’s sole purpose in coming here was to dump on us. I didn’t take it that way at all — the “dumping” type says platitudes like Kent Johnson on Harriet, or says folk-nostrums in antique cotton-wool like Harriet’s resident keeper with the bee in his bonnet, or leaves poems that nobody’s allowed to discuss. That’s dumping because it’s just leaving behind one’s own personal odor, like the dog marks the spot.

      And is it “flattering” to say I like someone’s poetry or have respect for someone’s plight? Well, I do with Franz Wright, both of the above, and what’s wrong with that? Indeed, the fact that I do, and many others do as well, makes his anger all the more ungrateful — and, of course, hate to say it, neurotic. But then, those artists who are back from the dead have a special role to play in society, and it’s a role that’s not comfortable — for anyone.

      The child who fell down the well didn’t like it, nor had any kind words for those bigger people who didn’t need a cover!


      “The better it is, the kinder,” you say, Tom. And that’s what I say too — and indeed what every word on Scarriet, however scurrilous, is proclaiming.

      Like the good Dean in Dublin, humanity’s fiercest critic, how he dumped on us all to be kind!


  10. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 13, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    “The better it is, the kinder.” That’s exactly what I meant.

    Desmond Swords from Dublin writes about the English comedian, Bernard Manning, then gets to us — and by association to Franz Wright too:

    The evidence thus far suggests not [that Emerson was a racist], but I like this piece, because it says stuff that might ‘fail’ and this is what stands out about your writing, that one day you write a turkey and the next a work of genius. You are unafraid to say silly stuff with a straight face, and believe it. Not many out there are capable of this, in the world of po-biz that is, have this quality and gumption of wit which is the most obvious sign of a poetic intelligence doing what it says on the tin: being imaginative and fabricating claims about the dead which are so outrageously NMS (non main-stream), that the MS mass of main-stream casuals in this business of ours, trading language for the craic, playing the game Tom, pretending – most of ‘em, just don’t get what you guys do. That the way to be different is to juxtapose stuff whose contrasting qualities make it stand-up and be read because it may be silly, stupid and plain wrong, but never less than interesting and provoking a response. Perhaps the most challenging stunt to pull off: actually getting people to read poetry-in-prose.

    Happy new year, Emerson was a puff.



  11. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 13, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    And hey, everybody, did you notice where all this is taking place? Any news of it on Harriet?

    Any news on Harriet at all?

    Or anything?

  12. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 13, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Oh, there’s this just in from Kent Johnson, Franz.

    Again, I’ll bet a gala fund-raiser reading in NYC –big-name poets reading with Haitian diaspora poets, the event co-sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Project, Academy of American Poets, etc., with some music and a star MC– would raise a good deal of money and provide a good deal, too, of what you refer to above, Don:
    Emotional support.

    Given the magnitude of the disaster, some sort of special collective gesture from the U.S. poetry community (if I may use that word) seems called for.


    No, Kent, you may NOT use that word, and sanctimony comes strange out of mouths like yours, and Don Share’s too, and Ruth B. Lilly must be weeping.

    It’s this that is so rotten about all the big, comfortable foundations supporting poetry, that they talk platitudes with mealy mouths about the butter on their members’ bread — which has nothing whatever to do with poetry, the community, the U.S, or any people ever met at such a reading, or ever read, or even heard of!


    P.S. And now some Harriet poster’s talking about tapping Ruth B. Lilly’s millions for other causes, yet no one’s talking about what The Chicago Tribune’s talking about — any more than any regular has ever talked about what happened at Blog:Harriet on September 1st.

    Hey, anybody there know what I’m talking about?

    The one attempt in the past 5 months to draw attention to another point of view on Harriet got wiped straight out, and now the kings of the mountain want to raise money for Haiti???

  13. thomasbrady said,

    January 14, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    “tapping Ruth B. Lilly’s millions for other causes…”

    I agree! Give all that money to Haiti.

    What’s the Poetry Foundation doing with all that money?

    Oh…yea, promoting poetry…right! I almost forgot! Like the blog, Harriet….that’s really helping poetry… so, never mind, don’t give the money to Haiti…Keep giving it to Travis Nichols…

    That’s why Don Share posts about Haiti…he’s feeling guilty…Blog Harriet might as well put up the appearance that it cares about something…sort of reminds me when Jorie Graham tried to give food to a homeless person…

  14. January 22, 2010 at 8:21 am

    […] small poem that dares to say what you probably meant when you came here, Franz Wright — for almost certainly such anger is the result of a divine touch in you that […]

  15. ergou2 said,

    March 20, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    I’ve never quite been able to figure out why poets feel the need to be so mean-spirited to other poets. What does this accomplish? Does it make you feel good?

  16. thomasbrady said,

    March 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm


    I’m not sure I can answer you. Why are people sometimes mean-spirited? I don’t know. Do you refer to Franz being mean-spirited to Henry Gould, or Harriet being mean-spirited to Graves, Woodman, Swords, Cordle, or some other incident involving mean-spiritedness? I do think it probably does bring a temporary rush of ‘feel good’ when some kind of self-righteous act of justice is enacted, even though that act may seem mean-spirited to others.

    Don’t you think this is one of the greatest virtues of being human, that abstract issues of justice can make us ‘feel good?’ So obviously we don’t want to inhibit ‘feeling good’ or inhibit seeking redress in terms of justice and higher good, correct?

    The devil is in the details, though. You, obviously, wouldn’t have made your comment if you were not under the spell of some abstract sense of justice: thus your plea.

    However, your plea is not specific. You may ‘feel good,’ you may be making your friends ‘feel good’ privately (for I assume they know the true target or targets of your remarks) but I, and I assume many others, have no idea specifically what you’re talking about.

    If you want to elaborate, that’s fine.

    If you’re just ‘feeling good,’ that’s fine, too!


  17. ergou2 said,

    March 20, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Is this the same Tom Brady whose poetry appears in Clockwise Cat? Whose poem Portrait of a Nude (Manet’s The Picnic in the Grass)

    He lay naked on the rock
    stretched vulnerable
    He said, “Fill me up”.

    Her hand flicked
    at the tall flowers
    her eyes upon the green valley,
    “its too cold,” she said and shivered.

    …the paint begins to run and smear
    nothing was any longer clear.
    the sun was weak…

    Is this the same Thomas Brady?

  18. thomasbrady said,

    March 20, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    No, that’s not me. Thanks for asking.

  19. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 14, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Three Poems by Dorothy Parker


    If, with the literate, I am
    Impelled to try an epigram,
    I never seek to take the credit;
    We all assume that Oscar said it.


    Dante Gabriel Rossetti
    Buried all of his libretti,
    Thought the matter over – then
    Went and dug them up again.


    Although I work, and seldom cease,
    At Dumas pere and Dumas fils,
    Alas, I cannot make me care
    For Dumas fils and Dumas pere.

  20. thomasbrady said,

    April 14, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Dorothy Parker was like Millay…her poems actually sold…

  21. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 27, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Tonight I Doze

    By Reb Livingston

    Because insomnia is no fun and who’s dark and frilly now?
    Not me, yes me, oh woe whoa, what did we step in this time?

    Everything was textbook sweetness, tv show thrillingness
    and then, then, fuck you and your then, hairy hands

    spiral eyeballs, pat and rub, whimsy stick, I saw you
    peek-a-wink, yes you simply offered alternatives.

    I lapped lipped your radiation, let you sneak in the side
    kissed cursed your crooked eyelids, lived loved your false greetings.

    Those were good days, those three, they shouldn’t have ended but
    clocks, they were born to run, hah, I’m trying to be funny.

    You made me nervous, bulbous, fortuitous, I’m using big words
    and I don’t know what they mean. I squealed for ya.

    That’s what I did and you got sleepy and said now we could sleep.
    I didn’t want to sleep, I wanted to talk and go back in time

    so there’d be nothing to talk about and start over and graze
    past, shake hands, shake an ankle, kiss kiss. There was that

    stairwell, that lost opportunity of steps and railings.
    Now I’m fat, draped in flannel and you take too damn long

    to respond and never answer important questions

    Sleep introduces figs and blueberries.
    Sleep gives tomorrow. Dear beloved, let’s sleep again.

  22. Ergou2 said,

    April 28, 2010 at 12:05 am

    inane drivel…sound like someone teaching a monkey to make a doily

  23. thomasbrady said,

    April 28, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    sound like someone got up on the wrong side of the bed

  24. Henry Gould said,

    May 4, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I wrote this sonnet many years ago… I had been reading the Selected Poems of James Wright. Was thinking to myself that something about him reminded me of an old bear. Then I flipped open the book again… and there was a poem featuring young bear cubs scampering around (I forget the title). Hence the pun in the last couplet.


    A voice moves in a heart fallen asleep,
    Murmuring there like a thawing rivulet.
    I heard your voice, fluent in the deep
    Sweetness of the land, compassionate;
    Flowing beneath our cold, intemperate
    Harshness, the icebound lake of our death.
    Meekness, only; poverty in spirit;
    And over the abandoned towns, a breath
    Of life. . . When you placed a simple wreath
    Of memory upon this common ground,
    I heard a wholly other spring, beneath
    These grasslands, waiting to be found–

    A vernal undertaking. We might bear
    From hibernation something we can share.

  25. thomasbrady said,

    May 4, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Hi Henry,

    Long time, no see!

    Have you left honey for the bear?

    I love the lines “A voice moves in a heart fallen asleep” and “I heard your voice, fluent in the deep…” And the final couplet is great, too.


    • Henry Gould said,

      May 5, 2010 at 1:16 pm

      Thank you, Tom.

  26. The Noochie-Coochie Man said,

    August 2, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    I put my mind to working and
    Submitting to my betters.
    I will not rage, for in my mind
    I’m bound in silken fetters.

  27. Noochinator said,

    November 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    The Long Island Night

    Nothing as miserable has happened before.
    The Long Island night has refused its moon.
    La belle dame sans merci‘s next door.
    The Prince of Darkness is on the phone.

    Certain famous phrases of our time
    Have taken on the glitter of poems,
    Like “Catch me before I kill again,”
    And “Why are you sitting in the dark alone?”

    Howard Moss

  28. Noochinator said,

    January 30, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Some “dippy verses” by John Barth:

    Tell me a story of women and men
    Like us: like us in love for ten
    Years, lovers for seven, spouses
    Two, or two point five. Their house’s
    Increase is the tale I wish you’d tell.

    Why did that perfectly happy pair,
    Like us, decide this late to bear
    A child? Why toil so to conceive
    One (or more), when they both believe
    The world’s aboard a handbasket bound for hell?


    Sentimentality, was it? A yen
    Like ours to be one person, blend
    Their flesh forever, so to speak—
    Although the world could end next week
    And that dear incarnation be H-bomb fried?

    Maybe they thought that by joining their
    (Like our) so different genes—her
    Blue-blooded, his blue-collared—they’d make
    A blue-eyed Wunderkind who’d take
    The end of civilization in his/her stride?

    What pride!

    Or maybe they weren’t thinking at all,
    But (unlike us) obeyed the call
    Of blind instinct and half-blind custom:
    “Reproduce your kind and trust ’em
    To fortune’s winds and tides, life’s warmth and frost!”?

    Perhaps they considered all the above
    (Like us, exactly)—instinct, love,
    The world’s decline from bad to worse
    In more respects than the reverse—
    And decided to pay, but not to count, the cost…

    Fingers crossed.


    Tell me their story as if it weren’t ours,
    But like ours enough so that the Powers
    Which drive and steer good stories might
    Fetch them beyond our present plight,

    And navigate the tale itself to an ending more rich and strange than everyday realism ordinarily permits; a bottom line that will make art if not sense out of the predicament your sperm and my egg, with a lot of help from their producers, have got us into; in short, yet another rhyme as it were for cost to end this poem with, even if we have to abandon verse for prose or prose for verse to reach it: a rhyme less discouraging, more pregnant so to speak with hope, than lost.


  29. Anonymous said,

    June 30, 2011 at 12:15 am

    You should have kept your stuff and gave up poetry. It bred a pompous ass

  30. James Wright Support said,

    January 18, 2012 at 11:45 am

    At the Executed Murderer’s Grave


    for J. L. D.

    Why should we do this? What good is it to us? Above all, how can we do such a thing? How can it possibly be done?

    My name is James A. Wright, and I was born
    Twenty-five miles from this infected grave,
    In Martins Ferry, Ohio, where one slave
    To Hazel-Atlas Glass became my father.
    He tried to teach me kindness. I return
    Only in memory now, aloof, unhurried,
    To dead Ohio, where I might lie buried,
    Had I not run away before my time.
    Ohio caught George Doty. Clean as lime,
    His skull rots empty here. Dying’s the best
    Of all the arts men learn in a dead place.
    I walked here once. I made my loud display,
    Leaning for language on a dead man’s voice.
    Now sick of lies, I turn to face the past.
    I add my easy grievance to the rest:

    Doty, if I confess I do not love you,
    Will you let me alone? I burn for my own lies.
    The nights electrocute my fugitive,
    My mind. I run like the bewildered mad
    At St. Clair Sanitarium, who lurk,
    Arch and cunning, under the maple trees,
    Pleased to be playing guilty after dark.
    Staring to bed, they croon self-lullabies.
    Doty, you make me sick. I am not dead.
    I croon my tears at fifty cents per line.

    Idiot, he demanded love from girls,
    And murdered one. Also, he was a thief.
    He left two women, and a ghost with child.
    The hair, foul as a dog’s upon his head,
    Made such revolting Ohio animals
    Fitter for vomit than a kind man’s grief.
    I waste no pity on the dead that stink,
    And no love’s lost between me and the crying
    Drunks of Belaire, Ohio, where police
    Kick at their kidneys till they die of drink.
    Christ may restore them whole, for all of me.
    Alive and dead, those giggling muckers who
    Saddled my nightmares thirty years ago
    Can do without my widely printed sighing
    Over their pains with paid sincerity.
    I do not pity the dead, I pity the dying.

    I pity myself, because a man is dead.
    If Belmont County killed him, what of me?
    His victims never loved him. Why should we?
    And yet, nobody had to kill him either.
    It does no good to woo the grass, to veil
    The quicklime hole of a man’s defeat and shame.
    Nature-lovers are gone. To hell with them.
    I kick the clods away, and speak my name.

    This grave’s gash festers. Maybe it will heal,
    When all are caught with what they had to do
    In fear of love, when every man stands still
    By the last sea,
    And the princes of the sea come down
    To lay away their robes, to judge the earth
    And its dead, and we dead stand undefended everywhere,
    And my bodies—father and child and unskilled criminal—
    Ridiculously kneel to bare my scars,
    My sneaking crimes, to God’s unpitying stars.

    Staring politely, they will not mark my face
    From any murderer’s, buried in this place.
    Why should they? We are nothing but a man.

    Doty, the rapist and the murderer,
    Sleeps in a ditch of fire, and cannot hear;
    And where, in earth or hell’s unholy peace,
    Men’s suicides will stop, God knows, not I.
    Angels and pebbles mock me under trees.
    Earth is a door I cannot even face.
    Order be damned, I do not want to die,
    Even to keep Belaire, Ohio, safe.
    The hackles on my neck are fear, not grief.
    (Open, dungeon! Open, roof of the ground!)
    I hear the last sea in the Ohio grass,
    Heaving a tide of gray disastrousness.
    Wrinkles of winter ditch the rotted face
    Of Doty, killer, imbecile, and thief:
    Dirt of my flesh, defeated, underground.

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 18, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      What self-pitying bombast.

      “My name is James Wright and I was born 25 miles from this infected grave”

      A perfect line to please your hyberbolic New Critic English teachers.

      My life is real! I drink in bars!

      I write like Robert Lowell!

      Except I write about poor folk!


  31. James Wright Support said,

    January 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    You seem to favor light verse.

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm

      I favor the good over the bad, whether its light verse, or not. Good light verse is probably more difficult to write than free verse which borders on the mawkish and self-indulgent, since it’s easier to make an emotional display than to make verse which truly has wings.

      James Wright was helped by powerful figures. He was no outsider.

  32. David said,

    January 19, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Poe, in “The Poetic Principle”, extols the “certain taint of sadness [that] is inseparably connected with all the higher manifestations of true Beauty”, a sadness that

    … is not akin to pain,
    And resembles sorrow only
    As the mist resembles the rain.

    Certainly there is a delicacy and “lightness” in those lines that contrasts with the ham-handedness of such lines as these:

    I pity myself, because a man is dead.
    If Belmont County killed him, what of me?
    His victims never loved him. Why should we?
    And yet, nobody had to kill him either.
    It does no good to woo the grass, to veil
    The quicklime hole of a man’s defeat and shame.
    Nature-lovers are gone. To hell with them.
    I kick the clods away, and speak my name.

    A “light” touch in rendering Beauty in melancholy tones, so highly recommended by Poe, is, perhaps, not far removed from the “lightness” that we find in the poetry of Billy Collins, denounced by “serious” modernists as cloying and insincere. Still waters run deep, as the saying goes.

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 19, 2012 at 9:57 pm

      James Wright’s “At the Executed Murderer’s Grave,” is a great case study, because it’s a classic “serious” poem which 99 academic critics in a 100 praise, and would find much better than Collins, for instance—when, in fact, this Wright poem is wretched, and students should understand why it is wretched.

      First, as you point out, David, it has no “light touch.”

      Secondly, it has no focus. It’s all over the place. Just look at the final stanza. It’s hard to find so many bad lines in one place:

      Doty, the rapist and the murderer, [heavy-handed, we already know he’s a murderer]
      Sleeps in a ditch of fire, and cannot hear;[ditch of fire—is he in hell? half-rhyme ‘hear’ is merely annoying]
      And where, in earth or hell’s unholy peace, [this is pure bombast: “earth or hell’s unholy peace”]
      Men’s suicides will stop, God knows, not I.[neither I]
      Angels and pebbles mock me under trees.[yikes!]
      Earth is a door I cannot even face. [melodramatic]
      Order be damned, I do not want to die, [oh stop]
      Even to keep Belaire, Ohio, safe. [ha ha ha]
      The hackles on my neck are fear, not grief. [“hackles” is right]
      (Open, dungeon! Open, roof of the ground!) [oh, lord…]
      I hear the last sea in the Ohio grass, [yea, we know it’s Ohio]
      Heaving a tide of gray disastrousness.[what a rhyme!]
      Wrinkles of winter ditch the rotted face [I thought the ditch was on fire]
      Of Doty, killer, imbecile, and thief: [Tell us how you feel about Doty]
      Dirt of my flesh, defeated, underground.[oh boy. we are all James Wright, we are all Doty, the murderer, in the ditch. ]

    • James Wright Support said,

      January 19, 2012 at 10:41 pm

      You might take your own advice David, as every poem I’ve seen you write here is ham-handed and without grace.

      • James Wright Support said,

        January 19, 2012 at 10:52 pm

        That said, I agree that the poem is self-pitying and cloddish. It doesn’t fly, its falls into the earth and is buried. It’s hackled there, and has no assistance from the angels, the real intelligence.

        However, it’s still a better, and more interesting poem than “Today” by Billy Collins.

      • David said,

        January 20, 2012 at 6:11 am

        In your esteemed and learned opinion, JWS. Why don’t you show us some of your work? I’m sure that it flies on angel’s wings.

        • James Wright Support said,

          January 20, 2012 at 6:45 am

          One angel can annihilate a thousand “esteemed and learned opinions” of the day, a certainly a few wretched and treacherous demons.

      • David said,

        January 20, 2012 at 6:13 am

        Besides, it’s not my advice, it’s Poe’s. I imagine that he knows better than either you or me.

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm

        James Wright support said: “You might take your own advice David, as every poem I’ve seen you write here is ham-handed and without grace.”

        This is both silly and vindictive, though a common reaction. The most important thing is that we be discriminating critics and gain confidence each day in this area—we should not short-circuit the process with doubts regarding our own compositions, for the future, the future is all, and David has poems, great poems waiting to be written, and if not, then c’est la vie, but in the meantime let us pursue criticism, which is divine…

  33. James Wright Support said,

    January 19, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    God bless the Wrights. They gave up everything to be poets.

    If a singer or a poet can’t be maudlin now and again, who can?

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      Maudlin is common; millions of us are maudlin every day—poetry and song should make us joyful in melancholy, but not maudlin.

      As for ‘giving up everything to be poets,’ that’s a mere figure of speech of which the actual meaning is empty; it is an empty boast—as empty as the worth of James Wright’s poetry.

      • James Wright Support said,

        January 20, 2012 at 8:21 pm

        One thing poetry and song does is make us “maudlin”. You are calling this being “joyful in melancholy” just so you can disagree with me. That’s fine by me; I am more than happy to disagree with you in every matter.

        Obviously what maudlin shit we deign ‘divine’ is often just a matter of taste. And further, for the stupid, or the soulless and opportunistic, entirely a matter of public taste.

        This Wright poem, for instance, as you said yourself, is approved by 99 out of 100 academics. It is also written in an accessible, simple language with standard grammar and universal themes, so I’m sure any non-academic ‘regular guy’ could love it as well. How can you argue with that?! Well, Thomas, you must be jealous. I’ll bet you’ll never look at a pony and turn into a flower. Your ‘criticism” of the poem sounds like a fourteen year old boy’s taunting and cheap sarcasm.

  34. David said,

    January 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    … but in the meantime let us pursue criticism, which is divine…

    Well put, Tom. It’s an essential guiding principle, as you’ve elsewhere noted:


  35. James Wright Support said,

    January 20, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    This whole site is silly and vindictive. Not one thing ‘divine’ about it, or you, or your slobbering, bug-eyed hunchback “David”.

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 20, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      Don’t be sore, JWS.

      Life is short, art is long!

  36. David said,

    January 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    … your slobbering, bug-eyed hunchback “David”.

  37. James Wright Support said,

    January 20, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Ah, you read my mind. You must have some kind of profound magical ability. Certainly a much more realistic metaphor than the Shelley hallucinations we were having a few weeks ago.

  38. June 19, 2013 at 5:20 am

    […] dares to say what you probably meant when you came here, Franz Wright — for almost certainly such anger is the result of a divine touch in you that does not allow you to compromise with anything or […]

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 19, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Where is Christopher Woodman?

      Someone said he walked into the Himilayas and was never seen again.

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