Magazine article World Literature Today

James Wright: A Life in Poetry

Magazine article World Literature Today

James Wright: A Life in Poetry

Article excerpt

Jonathan Blunk. James Wright:A Life in Poetry. New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2017. 496 pages.

Jonathan Blunk reaches far into the future with this luminous biography of one of the finest and most important American poets of the twentieth century, James Wright. Nearly five hundred pages, the book is replete with four hundred pages of narrative, thirty-eight judiciously selected photographs, sixty-eight pages of extensive notes, acknowledgments, and a detailed, twenty-one-page index, making the book a necessary resource for Wright scholarship. Biographies are sometimes deadened by a merely dutiful and exhaustive recitation of chronological facts that fail to evoke the complex totality of the living spirit they describe. Though Blunk's writing is accurate, dutiful, and exhaustive (as biographies should be), it is also vividly alive: a reader feels on every page as if he or she is in the presence of Wright. The narrative distance is gauged perfectly, providing an objectivity infused with awareness of the deep humanity and importance of this poet.

We seem to witness it all, the circumstances of every phase of Wright's life, the inner and outer forces that shaped his character, events, and destiny. Through interviews, letters, journals, and unpublished poetry, Blunk develops an intimate proximity to the psychology and emotions of the poet, his motivations and his actions. In spite of the vacillations of interpersonal relationships and the vicissitudes of fortune that any life must endure, we see the poetic genius of Wright forging its self and voice in the furnace of circumstance, unwavering in its focus and devotion to poetry. This process was made even more difficult, however, by decades of alcoholism and episodes of major depression for which he was hospitalized multiple times-two factors which themselves contributed to the wreckage of his first marriage to Liberty and the eventual physical separation from his two sons, Franz and Marshall. All the interdependent and causal strands of the web of Wright's life are here.

Throughout this book, we learn the biographical contexts out of which many of Wright's most famous poems were written, and we become aware (more than ever) how authentic art always grows organically from the complex ground of understanding of a particular consciousness, a particular life. …

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