The Poetry of Franz Wright and Fanny Howe
The Poetry of Franz Wright and Fanny Howe
In the last six years I got very very interested in being around people in different forms of affliction… I use the term affliction in the sense of genuinely broken people who may not make it back. I like to be around people who are struggling with addiction and struggling with mental illness. I volunteered for a number of years in a place called the Center for Grieving Children… I’m happy among them, I like being around people who are struggling with crushing, difficult things. I’m much happier, it makes me feel more normal. That’s much more interesting, really, than writing.
Franz Wright’s poems read like one man’s chronicle of spirit — as told by the spirit more than the man. He has said they they often seem nearly to write themselves, in a sort of rapture. Both prayerful and witty, they tell stories of recovery to the point of something like ecstasy.
The uninterruptible voice, the
silence I now call
my only friend
right about now you might want to stop playing
mad chemist with your brain: return to Me
and I will return
from “The Next Home” in God’s Silence, Knopf, 2006
The humiliation I go through
when I think of my past
can only be described as grace.
We are created by being destroyed.
from “Letter, January 1998” in Walking to Martha’s Vineyard,
I stood once again
in this world, the garden
ark and vacant
tomb of what
I can’t imagine,
between twin eternities,
some sort of wings,
more or less equidistantly
exiled from both,
hovering in the dreaming called
being awake, where
You gave me
in secret one thing
to perceive, the
tall blue starry
strangeness of being
here at all.
You gave us each in secret something to perceive.
from “The Only Animal” in Walking to Martha’s Vineyard,
Franz Wright [Courtesy of Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright / Random House]
Franz Wright (born 1953) and his father James Wright (1927 – 1980) both won Pulitzer Prizes for poetry — the lyrical experimentalist James in 1972, Franz in 2004. The only father-son Pulitzer pair in the same field, they could be imagined as the big-league poetry version of
baseball’s Ken Griffeys (Jr. and Sr.), though with dark twists. Franz has recalled that as a teenager when he sent his first efforts to his estranged dad, his famous father wrote him a letter that began: “I’ll be damned. You’re a poet. Welcome to hell.”
In fact Franz Wright’s sustained surge of poems in the last decade have mapped his own route out of hell — out of the severe depression and alcoholism that afflicted his father before him. Along the way he found his way into Catholicism, Alcoholics Anonymous and a sustaining marriage. His poems make many references to daily mass, and regular recovery meetings. Often he addresses God directly as: You.
It is late afternoon and I have just returned from
the longer version of my walk nobody knows
about. For the first time in nearly a month, and
everything changed. It is the end of March, once
more I have lived. This morning a young woman
described what it’s like shooting coke with a baby
in your arms. The astonishing windy and altering light
and clouds and water were, at certain moments,
… Thank You for letting me live for a little as one of the
sane; thank You for letting me know what this is
like. Thank You for letting me look at your frightening
blue sky without fear, and your terrible world without
terror, and your loveless psychotic and hopelessly
with this love
from “One Heart” in Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, Knopf,
Fanny Howe will join this conversation — another light-in-the-darkness poet of searching religious mysticism that seems so powerfully out-of-step with what we think of as our dominant secular culture. An eminence in her own right, Fanny Howe is a special favorite of Franz Wright, who copied out her poem, “Conclusively,” in an email — “one of Fanny Howe’s poems in which I stand in hopeless awe.”
The night was almost too long to bear
Then there was evidence of mercy–a passing car–
milky air–and I could see
dry walls & gravel on the way to a highway
Atlantic for its grays
Loss the the fulfillment of the Law
Space collected on a long line
I was eliminated as a locus of mothering–
a she–physical but imaginary as a restless daughter
Why this body and not another
The one who came to destroy the works of women–their
knew how many people were resisting incarnation
He counted on them by accommodating them
Guilt relieving guilt
is the get of killers whose mouths shine
I can’t say enough about this–red because sore
& polished because wet
One died to become the spirit-guide
Before that time
there were second persons in everything
Then saints, then no one
to guide anyone to heaven
Cosmic expansion has gone in its prefered direction
I can hear the hour, this never
happened to me before
One day I will shake the blue sky from my hair
and slip back to consciousness–
the thing that is always aware
with or without a living creature to share its pleasures
Tonight I request the precious gift of final perseverance
shored up in my sheets
not far from a predawn holocaust
of traveling children
from Fanny Howe: Selected Poems, UC Press,
- Poet, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his book Walking to Martha’s Vineyard
- Poet, novelist and short story writer
- Poetry Editor, The New Yorker
- Extra Credit Reading
- Joseph Torra, Fanny Howe, joeblog, March 21, 2006.
Jonathan Mayhew, 2.27.2003, Bemsha Swing, February 27, 2003.
Ericson, Drawings by Trees, Undesigner / Visioneer, June 4, 2006.
Kelly LeVan, Thinking makes it so, lamonitor.com, July 19, 2006.
Alice Quinn, In the Beforelife: Franz Wright, The New Yorker, July 9, 2001.
Ilya Kaminsky, A Symposium on the Works of Franz Wright, Web Del Sol Review of Books.
Justin Marks, In My Father’s House There Are Many Rooms, Web Del Sol Review of Books.
Leonard Schwartz, Fanny Howe: Meditations on Word and Life, Jacket Magazine, May 2004.
Fanny Howe, On the Ground, Graywolf Press, July 2004.
Franz Wright, God’s Silence, Random House, March 2006.