James Arlington Wright
Biography of James Arlington Wright
James Arlington Wright was an American poet.
Wright first emerged on the literary scene in 1956 with The Green Wall, a collection of formalist verse that was awarded the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Prize. But by the early 1960s, Wright, increasingly influenced by the Spanish language surrealists, had dropped fixed meters. His transformation achieved its maximum expression with the publication of the seminal The Branch Will Not Break (1963), which positioned Wright as curious counterpoint to the Beats and New York schools, which predominated on the American coasts.
This transformation had not come by accident, as Wright had been working for years with his friend Robert Bly, collaborating on the translation of world poets in the influential magazine The Fifties (later The Sixties). Such influences fertilized Wright's unique perspective and helped put the Midwest back on the poetic map.
Wright had discovered a terse, imagistic, free verse of clarity, and power. During the next ten years Wright would go on to pen some of the most beloved and frequently anthologized masterpieces of the century, such as "A Blessing," "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio," and "I Am a Sioux Indian Brave, He Said to Me in Minneapolis."
Technically, Wright was an innovator, especially in the use of his titles, first lines, and last lines, which he used to great dramatic effect in defense of the lives of the disenfranchised. He is equally well known for his tender depictions of the bleak landscapes of the post-industrial American Midwest. Since his death, Wright has developed a cult following, transforming him into a seminal writer of ever increasing influence. Each year, hundreds of writers gather to pay tribute at the James Wright Poetry Festival in Martins Ferry.
Wright's son Franz Wright is also a poet. Together they are the only parent/child pair to have won a Pulitzer Prize in the same category (Poetry).
Wright's early poetry is relatively conventional in form and meter, especially compared with his later, looser poetry. His work with translations of German and South American poets, as well as the influence of Robert Bly, had considerable influence on his own poems; this is most evident in The Branch Will Not Break, which departs radically from the formal style of Wright's previous book, Saint Judas. In addition to his own poetry, he also published loose translations of René Char's hermetic poems.
His poetry often deals with the disenfranchised, or the outsider, American; yet it is also often inward probing. Wright suffered from depression and bipolar mood disorders and also battled alcoholism his entire life. He experienced several nervous breakdowns, was hospitalized, and was subjected to electroshock therapy. His dark moods and focus on emotional suffering were part of his life and often the focus of his poetry, although given the emotional turmoil he experienced personally, his poems are often remarkably optimistic in expressing a faith in life and human transcendence. His seminal 1963 volume The Branch Will Not Break is one example of his belief in the human spirit.
His 1972 Collected Poems was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In addition to his other awards, Wright received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
James Arlington Wright's Works:
Published in his lifetime
The Green Wall (Yale University Press, 1957)
Saint Judas (Wesleyan University Press, 1959)
The Branch Will Not Break (Wesleyan University Press, 1963)
Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio -- Broadside (1963)
Shall We Gather at the River (Wesleyan University Press, 1967)
Collected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1971)
Two Citizens (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973)
Moments of the Italian Summer (Dryad Press, 1976)
To a Blossoming Pear Tree (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977)
This Journey (1982; completed in 1980)
The Temple at Nîmes (1982)
James Wright, In Defense Against This Exile. Letters To Wayne Burns., edited with an introduction by John R. Doheny (1985)
Above the River - the Complete Poems, introduction by Donald Hall (1992)
Selected Poems (2005)
A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright (2005)
The Delicacy and Strength of Lace: Letters Between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright., edited by Anne Wright and Joy Harjo (2009)
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James Arlington Wright Poems
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota, Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass. And the eyes of those two Indian ponies Darken with kindness.
Lying In A Hammock At William Duffy's Fa...
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly, Asleep on the black trunk, blowing like a leaf in green shadow. Down the ravine behind the empty house,
Autumn Begins In Martins Ferry, Ohio
In the Shreve High football stadium, I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville, And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood, And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
The moon drops one or two feathers into the fiels. The dark wheat listens. Be still. Now.
When I went out to kill myself, I caught A pack of hoodlums beating up a man. Running to spare his suffering, I forgot My name, my number, how my day began,
I was only a young man In those days. On that evening The cold was so God damned Bitter there was nothing.
Depressed By A Book Of Bad Poetry, I Wal...
Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone. I climb a slight rise of grass. I do not want to disturb the ants Who are walking single file up the fence post,
Having Lost My Sons, I Confront The Wrec...
After dark Near the South Dakota border, The moon is out hunting, everywhere, Delivering fire,
Small Frogs Killed On The Highway
Still, I would leap too Into the light, If I had the chance.
A Note Left In Jimmy Leonard's Shack
Near the dry river's water-mark we found Your brother Minnegan, Flopped like a fish against the muddy ground. Beany, the kid whose yellow hair turns green,
A Winter Daybreak Above Vence
The night's drifts Pile up below me and behind my back, Slide down the hill, rise again, and build Eerie little dunes on the roof of the house.
Fear Is What Quickens Me
1 Many animals that our fathers killed in America Had quick eyes.
It can't be the passing of time that casts That white shadow across the waters Just offshore. I shiver a little, with the evening.
I was only a young man
In those days. On that evening
The cold was so God damned
Bitter there was nothing.
Nothing. I was in trouble
With a woman, and there was nothing
There but me and dead snow.
I stood on the street corner