The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 23, 2009

Jonathan Galassi On Charles Wright

Sestets This year for National Poetry Month, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publisher Jonathan Galassi has agreed to say a few words about our upcoming poetry collections. You can expect his comments here every Tuesday and Thursday for the rest of the month.

SESTETS is, I believe, the ninth book I’ve done with Charles Wright here at FSG. We did a couple at Random House before that, too, in the early eighties. I fell in love with his hypnotic melancholy, his never-satisfied hunger for transcendence, the sheer beauty of his imagery, and above all with his mesmerizing sound. Charles’s project is an ongoing adventure in that is one of the great poetic creations of our moment. Charles has submitted the substrate of his longing, his tender memory, his knowledge of loss and beauty, to many tests, formal, and ever seeking the elusive reward of oneness—with self, with the world, with the supernatural. SESTETS represents one of his most radical experiments, but by no means the only one. Here the test is to confine the poem within six lines.

Here’s one, almost at random:

Music for Midsummer’s Eve

Longest day of the year, but still, I’d say,
                                                               too short by half.
The horses whacked, the dog gone lost in the mucked, long grass,
Tree shadows crawling toward their dark brothers across the field.
 
Time is an untuned harmonium
The Muzaks our nights aad days.
Sometimes it lasts for a little while,
                                                    sometimes it goes on forever.


A song lyric, almost—country music of a philosophic cast of mind. Fact, reaction, image, opulent metaphor—and suddenly you’re on another plane, in timelessness, and it all happens before you’ve even realized it.

I first read Charles’s early book BLOODLINES and heard the echo of one of my great heroes, Eugenio Montale, in those terse, intense lyrics. Charles is more relaxed now, by the compression, the immediate movement from here-and-now to elsewhere, is the same. No one else does it with his inspired sleight-of-hand.

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