A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Garrison Keillor reads James Wright’s iconic poem.
James Arlington Wright (December 13, 1927 – March 25, 1980) 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 a 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 significant influence. Hundreds of writers gathered annually for decades following his death to pay tribute at the James Wright Poetry Festival held from 1981 through 2007 in Martins Ferry.
Biography adapted from Wikipedia.