Profile—C.D. Wright

by Weston Cutter

By temperament I'm one to read at night, principally because anything I hope to do with middling success seems to come more easily, to me, at night—not necessarily because of the darkness of it, but the stillness and the time-frozen aspect that seems to allow and invite mistakes and madness and multiple rewrites.

I've lately—two weeks, going on three—had my nights thickened with a book of poetry by C.D. Wright, who last was nocturnally and bookishly present (for me) me when she guest edited the Winter 2002-2003 Ploughshares, brilliantly and wisely and including so many jittering but precise poets and poems the copy I have is thumb-filthy from weekly flipping. Her latest work, Steal Away, a selection of previously published poems alongside very new ones:
-Was published by Copper Canyon Press, a press (along with Graywolf and the rest of the gang, of course) well worth much of your small-press literary dollar.
-Is a Lannan Literary Selection
-Has one of the best page 199's in the history of page 199's.
-Is about as fucking brilliant a collection of poetry you're likely to find from 2002 (and Dean Young published that year so 2002 has a sizable benchmark)

A poetry of shine could come of this. (Morning Star, Tremble)

Wright's poetry is magnesium-flare brilliant, full of arrow-ish words and such grace that, tumbling through her pages and hearing (poems may be read but they hit because they're heard) her shift in tone from prisoners (as in One Big Self, her collection from 2002 which was a collaboration with photographer Deborah Luster) to a detached erotic voice (1993's Just Whistle, which is, in the astoundingest of ways, oh-my-G-d erotic and happens to be a booklength poem) to the daily common voices of women and men, you feel worn and traveled because of her poetry, in a wonderful, dusty, hat-on-head-bag-at-hand sort of way, staring down a long road you don't know.

The biographical asides: C.D. Wright was born in Arkansas and, after spending time learning from and loving with Frank Stafford, went to San Francisco where she met Forrest Gander, with whom she went in 1983 to teach at Brown, where she still teaches. She has published nine books, two of which are booklength poems, and has collaborated with Deborah Luster on projects joining photographs and poetry.

Love whatever flows. Cooking smoke, woman's blood,
tears. Do you hear what I'm telling you?
(Clockmaker with Bad Eyes, Translations of the Gospel Back Into Tongues)

Like the best poetry, Wright's does three essential things: it compels without being demanding, it works because of and not for grace, and it sounds, more often than not, like something you yourself would've written (or, at least in the moments after finishing one of her poems, would've wanted to write). She can write "Eyes/ have we and we are forever prey/ to each other's teeth" in a poem titled "Everything Good Between Men and Women" and simultaneously brighten and darken the receptive mind with what is actually being written.

Steal Away is invaluable if for no other reason than that it gathers (which seems a perfect one-verb summation for what Wright does with and in her poetry, as an aside) her "Retablos", "Girl Friend Poems", plus selections from her booklength poems and collaborations, so that in the zoo of words that fills 227 pages, every animal may not have a mate but certainly the chance of crossbreeding—another one-verb contender for Wright—with incredible results.

"Everything I do right involves overcoming a natural resistance to do otherwise," C.D. Wright is quoted in her author profile in that perfect Ploughshares. "But there's something in me, part gamecock and part hound, that doesn't give up without a bloody fight or at least one bone of my own to bury." Despite referring to her practice of charging at limitations and strange unknowns, that line speaks for C.D. Wright's ongoing poetic practice, in which, poem after poem for now more than 24 years, she's sought blood and bone and has, with grace and humor and diamond-precision, told of it. Thank her by buying her book and reading the book and then, over and over, keep listening.

Copyright 2003 by Weston Cutter. All rights reserved.