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An Outtakes Sestet: "Sky Guy".

The reason you went to UC Irvine for the MFA in the 1970s was Charles Wright; I felt cheated as Charles was gone on a Guggenheim my first year and my second at the Iowa Writers'Workshop. We met later at receptions for poets who came to read, and it turned out we both played golf, and, a time or two, we got out on a course together in Costa Mesa. His golf swing was almost as refined as his poems--grooved, compact, excellent timing, ball striking, and flight.

But I came to know Charles through his work. I own almost all of the books he has published, limited editions and trade. Each new book, each new poem in a magazine is an inspiration--and a heartbreak. No one writes with his brand of clarity, concision, invention, and vision. Charles is a classic craftsman as well as a hipster; his language is illuminated and he also has his hand on every bit of contemporary lingo, and he combines them originally and with meaning. Reading a new poem or book by Charles charges the aesthetic batteries and provides hope that there is something more to aspire to while still focusing on the essential. In Halflife he says, "Language is just a stand-in for the Absolute." Each of his poems takes a new route to the "Absolute"--capital A. His poetry is always on point, hence the heartbreak for me, as also in Halflife he famously says, "All my poems seem to be an ongoing argument with myself about the unlikelihood of salvation." For anyone coming after Charles with a similar line of investigation, there is not much meat left on the bone. I've written fan letters to him saying so, and he writes back generous and appreciative notes.

Over time, I have learned to read his handwriting, the winds-play, sky-scrawl cursive. With the first few notes I had from Charles thirty-some years ago, I thought he might be testing my retention of Old English or early Latin texts studied in school--given the abstract flourishes and interlocking lines. I remember examining his capital C--as I knew that is what it had to be with its place in the signature--but very few Cs looked like that. Then, I recalled the signature of Charles Dickens--an equally incredible and corresponding C. With more postcards and notes, I became a passable translator of the handwriting. Since childhood I have been enamored of clouds, and Charles's writing, with its airy hieroglyphics, reminded me of cirrus formations, their flighty edges where I would piece together beasts out of the blue.

Still, it is slim pickings in the semi-secular-metaphysical landscape each time Charles runs out another riff on the infinite. And he keeps doing it with new music time and again. Charles was a big help, admonishing, "If you can't sing, you've got to get out of the choir." Most recently Charles has published Sestets, followed by Outtakes, more poems in the same discipline. There is a poem in Outtakes that pulls me in for its directness, for its essential hymnlike quality in which statement is almost naked in the light and at the same time infused with that light--little need for embellishment. And it calls up the "unlikelihood of salvation" almost like a physical sensation, like something sweet zinging a bad tooth.

"Sky Guy" begins with the hip semi-irreverent title and ends on a line speaking directly to the "Absolute" in a way that doubles down on the bet that there is in fact something there, that there is another side--though the plaintive body of the poem, the music, eloquently states the case of mortality and loss. In one place, the poem offers a hopeful and reverent address, "dear Lord," a plea that asks that we are allowed a little more time to hold on, to debate with ourselves, and with the Absolute, our desire for life. It is hard to tell finally how much belief/doubt is in the poem, as it ends on "afterlife"--the poem brilliantly equivocating with hope until the very end.
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Title Annotation:Symposium II: Commentaries on Poems by Charles Wright
Author:Buckley, Christopher
Publication:Northwest Review
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2011
Words:757
Previous Article:Sky Guy.
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