Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Poetry slam: laureates—Charles Wright, Rita Dove, Billy Collins, et al.

New U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Wright (Michelle Cuevas, UVA Magazine)
I was intrigued to see that the new poet laureate, Charles Wright, hails from my alma mater The University of Virginia (as does former laureate Rita Dove, whose Sonata Mulattica I wrote about in a recent post). I've always liked Wright; if I see a poem of his in the New Yorker I'll be sure to read it, whereas a high percentage of the other poets they publish leave me mystified (Linda Pastan is another exception).
Thinking about things poetical sent me looking through our current stock of poetry titles to see what goodies I could turn up, and there are scads. Here you'll find titles by Billy Collins (another former laureate), Cafavy, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Auden, Ursula LeGuin, Marge Piercy, Katha Pollitt, Molly Peacock, Rita Dove, and Frank Bidart. Collections include one edited by Bill Moyers, the letters of Robert Lowell, anthologies of Greek verse, The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry, and The Penguin Book of 20th Century Poetry.
Here's an NPR feature on Wright with an interview and recordings of him reading several poems. His verse is steeped in nature, as in the following two poems reprinted by NPR:

There's no way to describe how the light splays
                                                    after the storm, under the clouds
Still piled like Armageddon
Back to the west, the northwest,
                                                 intent on incursion.
There's no way to picture it,
                                          though others have often tried to.
Here in the mountains it's like a ricochet from a sea surge,
Meadow grass moving like sea stalks
                                             in the depths of its brilliance.
from SESTETS. Copyright 2009 by Charles Wright. Reprinted/Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

This World is Not My Home, I'm Only Passing Through
The more you say, the more mistakes you'll make,
                                                  so keep it simple.
No one arrives without leaving soon.
This blue-eyed, green footed world—
                                               hello, Goldie, goodbye.
We won't meet again. So what?
The rust will remain in the trees,
                                            and pine needles stretch their necks,
Their tiny necks, and sunlight will snore in the limp grass.
from BYE-AND-BYE: SELECTED LATE POEMS by Charles Wright. Copyright 2011 by Charles Wright. Reprinted/Used by permissions of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
Returning to Rita Dove and her Sonata Mulattica, here's a gloss to add to my original discussion on Beethoven, George Polgreen Bridgetower, and the Kreutzer Sonata from John Zech of Composer's Datebook:
At the first rehearsal, Bridgetower had to read from Beethoven's manuscript score—no easy task considering Beethoven's poor penmanship—and at one point felt compelled to improvise a passage, which so enchanted Beethoven that he added Bridgetower's improvisation to his score. In fact, the two young men became fast friends, and were inseparable for a time. Bridgetower was an English violin virtuoso born in Poland of a European mother and an African father. He ended up in England, and joined the famous Salomon orchestra which premiered many of Haydn's “London” Symphonies. They caught the eye and ear of the Prince of Wales, who became his patron and sponsored a European tour which brought him to Vienna. His Viennese friendship with Beethoven came to a sudden end, Bridgetower later claimed, when the two men became interested in the same young lady. And so, even though it should be known as the “Bridgetower Sonata,” when this music was published as Beethoven's Op. 47, Beethoven dedicated the music to another contemporary virtuoso, a French violinist named Kreutzer, who apparently never performed it.


  1. I especially like the 2nd of the two poems by Charles Wright. Thanks for sharing it. First thing that came to mind, though, before reading it, is the illustration by R. Crumb of Mr. Natural "just passing through" underneath a jolly, possibly mocking, sun.

    Beethoven never removed Bridgetower's improvisation from the score? Seems a bit ungrateful to change the name of the piece.

    1. What a great juxtaposition. Haven't thought about Mr N in a while ... he used to be so ubiquitous!
      Yeah, hard cheese for Bridgetower, both then and for his future fame (or lack thereof).

    2. Hard cheese? That's new to me. Like sour grapes or bitter tea?

    3. Oui oui. It's a British term actually. (You can see I read a lot of British authors.)