On being fascinated by Littlefoot.
While still lust browsing through its pages, I had noticed that it consisted of 35 parts, untitled but numbered, like the "Tattoos" in Bloodlines, and that it was a book-length poem, like China Trace. I noticed too that it lent itself to be read as a journal covering the twelve months of Charles Wright's seventieth year, even as the "Journal of the Year of the Ox" in Zone Journals had covered his fiftieth. It followed the course of the seasons from one fall to the next, as Chickamauga (and, on a two-year span, Black Zodiac) had done, and, like its immediate precedent, Scar Tissue, it alternated longer and shorter poems. Wright had, once again, made it new while keeping consistent with the whole system of his poetry. My interest grew even keener when I saw that Littlefoot was a new configuration of the subject that constitutes the very backbone of Wright's oeuvre, namely, that argument with himself about the improbability of salvation that, as a "God-fearing agnostic," he has been "wast[ing] his heart on" for over forty years. How could it have been otherwise with a subject that, continually shifting its focus from "here" to "there," encompassed both the visible world, with its inexhaustible treasure of things that make us wonder and delight, and the invisible one, that "other side of the river," so dearly yearned for but of whose being there, of whose being at all, there is no reasonable certainty? With a subject that ramified into such motifs as the irrepressible longing to retrieve the numinous "spots of time" (as Wordsworth calls them) of one's childhood and youth, the reflections on how we know and what it is that (we think) we know notwithstanding the shortcomings of the language we have to rely on and the unintelligibility of the languages addressing us from the world around us, the loving reverence professed to the masters from whom one has learned what he values? And, of course, I was entranced throughout by Wright's consummate mastery of his medium. Suffice here to recall the eidetic force of his descriptions, the ever-surprising originality and justness of his similes and metaphors, the light-handed shading of narration into meditation and vice versa, the exquisite handling of iteratio, variation, and praeteritio, the three figures of speech that have come to be a sort of trademark of his style.
However, my fascination with Littlefoot was not, really, the effect of any of the aspects I have itemized, nor of their sum. There are books that, while being open to the appreciation and enjoyment of whoever may read them, seem to reserve some important--in some cases, the essential--part of their meaning to a narrower class of readers. How deeply, for instance, can F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night be penetrated by a reader who has never savored the taste of failure? Or how can a reader see and feel that Italo Svevo's As a Man Grows Older is speaking of and for him unless he has experienced, or is experiencing, the process of aging? That was precisely what I felt Littlefoot was doing for me, in voicing (and not in a muted strain) that apprehension of one's mortality that is ineludible for anyone who, like Wright at the time, is seventy, or, like myself at the time, is fast approaching that terminus set by the Bible to human life. I knew only too well what a "dark serenity of acceptance" is about, and what it is that Wright suggests when he says, "It's not tomorrow I'm looking forward, it's yesterday." And I too had often caught myself wondering "What is the span of one's life?" and--as in the line Wright has borrowed from bluegrass music to close his poem--"Will you miss me when I'm gone?" In this sense, Littlefoot is certainly no country for young men (or women).
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|Title Annotation:||Symposium II: Commentaries on Poems by Charles Wright|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2011|
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