Sunday, February 08, 2015

F gets an A+

"Some fish for words from shore while to go wading in up to their chins through a torrent of bone-chilling diamond, knife raised," writes Franz Wright in a prose poem called, simply, "Spell," although I don't know whether the title is intended as a command or an incantation. The poem appears in Wright's 2013 collection F, which the poet suggests refers both to his name and his "grade in life." However you spell it, F is a remarkable achievement.

Never one to fish for words from shore, Wright plunges deep into the river of life, raises his knife, and pulls from the torrent creatures both mundane and fantastic. The long poem "Entries of the Cell" assembles dreamlike fragments:
There are spots in the sea, depths where light ceases to penetrate, a painless, dreamless and shatterproof sleep holy to horrible workers: the ones who'll appear in our place after we've fallen storming the walls of the Kingdom.
From these blue depths the poet draws monsters and demons, evokes fears of mortality and shame and meaninglessness, but embraces beauty within alienation:
This blue world.

Unattainable--stranger than dying,

by what, what unmerited blessing, were we allowed to come here and to see it, as in a dream, or with eyes of flesh, what difference?

Death row born and bred, and yet

This blue world,

my stranger...
Into this strangeness Wright introduces his familiars: family, nature, words. The tender "Learning to Read" borrows a line from the poem "The Blessing" by Franz Wright's father James Wright, but F bends J's line to emphasize that breaking a fragile body does not always lead to blossoming. Anyone interested in the anxiety of influence might find further fodder in "Peach Tree" when F evokes the title of J's breakout poetry collection, The Branch Will Not Break, but F more directly addresses his family relationships in "Postcard 2," which includes a cryptic message from his famous father: "The blizzard I visit your city disguised as will never arrive and never be over."

For a collection redolent of the scent of the graveyard, F remains warm with light and life. In "Crumpled-Up Note Blowing Away," the poet proclaims, 
But I've said all that
I had to say.
In writing.
I've signed my name.
It's death's move.
And yet the poem doesn't accept this end but moves on through two more stanzas, ending with the poet sitting at the train station awaiting death's move while the sun shines brightly on his back. Another poem, "The Composer," introduces a character who marries mortality with art: "Awareness of existing in a universe where death is real came to him in the form of music." The soul, says Wright, is "a stranger in this world," but it does not lack tools for making beauty.

This tender sympathy for the human condition comes through most clearly in "Leave Me Hidden," which starts on a sardonic note of disgust for popular culture but soon moves into lyrical wonder over unexpected grace. Wandering into the woods and pressing his hands against a tree's "hugely magnified / fingerprint," the poet feels 
a heartbeat, vast, silently
booming there deep in
my hidden leaves, blessed
motherworld, personal
underworld, thank you

thank you.
For Franz Wright, motherworld and underworld remain eternally tangled, but reading his poems allows readers to plunge into the bone-chilling river of human existence and emerge with a new understanding of suffering linked with a mouth full of thank you.

No comments: