Franz Wright: Solving the Problems of Poetry

FranzWright_NewBioImage_Credit-ElizabethOehlkersWrightMaybe all poets are unhinged. There is historical evidence for this going back to ancient days. The Roman poet Catullus opened one infamous poem (known as “Catullus16”) with the line, “Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo.” It’s among the more, shall we say, forthright responses to critics a poet has ever penned (“I will sodomize you and face-fuck you”).

Such behavior among the poets continues to this day. Franz Wright—who died in May—was known to take a Catullan stance where critics were concerned. He once threatened to thrash William Logan, the critic who was unkind about Wright’s poems in a review for The New Criterion.

Franz Wright struggled with alcohol and drugs his entire difficult life, so the bad behavior had its source. But I also think that, in Wright’s case, the personal suffering that led to his outlandish behavior is related to problems at the heart of modern poetry. [Read more...]

Ray Bradbury Lives Forever

martian_chronicles_250On Labor Day weekend in 1932, a twelve year-old boy from Waukegan, Illinois, having just emerged from a family funeral, noticed a carnival tent by the shore of Lake Michigan and went to investigate. He had heard of a magician there named Mr. Electrico, who sat with a sword in hand on an electric chair with current passing through him, making his hair stand on end.

When Mr. Electrico stood up to knight the boy, making the current pass to him, he shouted: “Live forever!”

Ray Bradbury told this story about his childhood hundreds of times, insisting that the experience set him on the path to becoming a writer-magician, a teller of fantastic tales.

On one level this is a story about vocation—a baptism by electricity—but it is also a story about time and eternity, death and resurrection—themes that would preoccupy Bradbury over a writing career that spanned seven decades.

In all the tributes that have been paid to Bradbury since his death in June 2012—from lengthy newspaper obituaries to blog posts—one aspect of his life and work has been conspicuously missing: the centrality of faith. [Read more...]

The Healing Art: Doctors Prescribing Poems

healingartMy hematologist, who has monitored my leukemia for the past ten years, copied me into an email he sent to his colleagues. It was the poem “Beannacht” by Irish poet John O’Donohue, which begins:

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The gray window
And the ghost of loss
Gets in to you,
May a flock of colors,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

What a grace to have a doctor who would send this around to his colleagues. This is what I want in all my doctors: human beings in touch with the full range of human emotions. People who respond to poetry. [Read more...]

Receiving “What Is”

15518572787_47930a88ff_zWith gratitude and apologies to Peter Cole

I would like to share this poem with you.

I would like you to receive it as an honored guest. Receive it as one would receive grace.

To receive the poem, we need to release our unrelenting need to understand. We need to allow partial understanding to flourish. We need to allow the poem to not be undone by understanding. [Read more...]

My God Is Better Than Yours

512px-The_Crossing_fo_The_Red_SeaWhat a miracle! They had been freed, the Israelites, from Egypt, but moments after they set out on their way “home,” Pharaoh changed his mind, whipped his chariots and troops into a fury of pursuit and were fast closing in on the Israelites trapped by an impassable body of water before them.

And then…and then…and then, safe on the far shore, their enemies drowned when the walls of water collapsed over them. They sang, they beat on frame drums, they danced: a victory song and dance, the song of the sea!

[Read more...]


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