Wright C D Carolyn Wright

(1949— ) C. D. Wright maintains a maverick position in late 20th-century American poetry. With American poetry divided along aesthetic lines, she remains nonpartisan. Her work bears both the language poet's interest in fragment and surface as well as a narrative attention to time and place, and she cites as influences both Ron silliman and such regional writers as Frank Stanford and Flannery O'Connor. She often mentions that she is the daughter of a judge and a court reporter, as if explaining her devotion to getting the story straight, and the work of many younger American women poets, such as Ange Mlinko and Stefanie Marlis, is informed by Wright's attention to strange, fragmented, and place-specific detail.

Wright was born in 1947 and raised in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. In 1981 she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She received Guggenheim and Bunting Fellowships in 1987, followed by a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1988) and a Whiting Writers Award (1989). She was named state poet of Rhode Island, a five-year post, in 1994 and given a Lannan Literary Award in 1999. She teaches at Brown University.

While Wright's poems can be allusive and elusive, she conveys warmth and compassion for her materials through the use of wit and a keen ear for regional dialect and detail. Her work is grounded in the lives of working- and middle-class rural Americans, relating often forgotten aspects of these stories through nonlinear and unconventional forms. Two of the most distinguishing characteristics of her poetry are the mix of high and low diction—evangelical rantings, brand names, and slang are used alongside sensual and elegant metaphor—and the shift between rapturous joy and haunted despair that feels emblematic of her southern roots.

Wright is also known for her dedication to preserving the legacy of fellow Arkansas poet Frank Stanford. In 1982 she published Translations of the Gospel back into Tongues, which she has called a tribute to Stanford. In it, her poems give the vernacular and the gritty details of the lives of poor southerners to bizarre magic, as Stanford did, epically, before her. In "Bent Tones," an owl watchers over the people of the town getting ready for a "dance at the black school": "With her fast eye / She could see Floyd Little / Changing his shirt for the umpteenth time."

Wrights own work can also be epic. Deepstep Come Shining (1998) is a poetic road trip that chronicles everyday terrors and beauties in a voice both personal ("I was there. I know") and mythic ("Go to Venice; bring me back a mason jar of glass eyes. They shall multiply like shadflies"). The book has brought Wright her highest acclaim to date, and in her own words, "Deepstep Come Shining is my rapture" ("Interview"). Other projects, which include a photographic and poetic portrait of Louisiana prisoners with frequent collaborator Deborah Luster, supported by the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in 2000, continue her unique position as a poet dedicated as much to document as to daring.


Goodman, Jenny. "C.D. Wright." In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 120, American Poets since World War II, edited by R. S. Gwynn. Detroit: Gale, 1992, pp. 329-333. Wright, C. D. "Looking for 'one untranslatable song': An Interview with C.D. Wright on Poetics, Collaboration, American Prisoners, and Frank Stanford," by Kent Johnson, Jacket Available online. URL: www.jacket.zip.com.au/ jacket15/cdwright-iv.html. Downloaded June 2003.

Arielle Greenberg

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