Haunted by what he has and has not said, Charles Wright pens a poetry of urgent expectation.
His verse moves effortlessly from image to emotion to gnomic maxims about life and death. In them, he traces the lineaments of transcendence with delicacy and desire, humility and regret.
Wright’s is an elegiac yearning born of the “stepchild hour, / belonging to neither the light nor dark, / The hour of disappearing things.”
Winner of the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize and many other honors, Wright has carefully crafted “Caribou,” his 21st collection, around the tension of unbelief – reaching for an eternity that may not be there, ever watchful, always trusting, never sure.
The interplay of the ephemeral and the everlasting fuels Wright’s plain-spoken poetics. He addresses the reader with quiet meditations that insinuate some secret; revelation looms in his laconic, winsome voice.
As a visionary, Wright remains infatuated with the ancient Chinese poets Li Po and Han Shan, aka Cold Mountain. Thus, his own poems tend to emerge as ideograms – nature veering toward the metaphysical.
So much restless searching suffuses these poems that what is needed, Wright says in “Heaven’s Eel,” is Something we can’t see that controls all the things that we do see.
That is, something to trump the transience of everyday life.
With Wright on the brink of his 80s, and mortality breathing down his neck, much of “Caribou” resonates as “an old man’s poetry / written by someone who’s spent his life / Looking for one truth. / Sorry, pal, there isn’t one.”
Like all prophetic poets, Wright has to fight hard against preachiness, against steering away from the strict catechism of the image:
At their best, Wright’s poems spur us toward epiphany, invoking as much as they evoke, yet rooted firmly in the earth.
No one else writes quite like Wright, with his intensity of purpose, his attunement to the spheres, his keen eye on creation. With each new book, he breeds our expectation to find an ecstatic opening to the other world. Even as we make our home in this one.