Charles Wright is often called a poet’s poet. He is ranked as one of the best American poets of his generation. An alumnus of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, he has written more than 20 books of poetry. In 2014, he was named Poet Laureate of the United States and has won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and other major awards for his poetry.
Wright is the featured poet at the College of William and Mary’s writer series, 7 p.m. Thursday, in the English Department’s Tucker Theater. The reading is free and open to the public. A book singing and reception will follow.
When I asked Wright to tell me what is the function of poetry, he said, “To say less and mean more.”
As to what makes one a poet rather than a writer of verse, he answered, “An emotional quotient, an emotional value.”
And as to what audience he has in mind when he writes, he replied, “The great dead. I always write for my betters.”
Wright has been a great admirer of Ezra Pound’s poetry and was inspired by it. I asked how he separated Pound’s poetry from his abhorrent political views and actions.
“Pound was the first poet I ever read seriously on my own. I was in Italy at that time and didn’t know much about his political adventures; I was just taken in by the beauty of the language and the landscape I was living in.
“Later, of course, I discovered all the other claptrap, but was already hooked on his poetry. Very difficult to separate the bad from the good, but I’ve tried.”
Henry Hart, the college’s Mildred and J.B. Hickman professor of English and humanities and an award-winning poet and literary biographer, organized Wright’s reading and evaluated his place in the constellation of American poets.
“Charles Wright extends the modernist line of poetry pioneered by major American poets Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams. Wright’s poems tend to be meditative in a philosophical and religious sense. Like modernist poets before him, he was influenced by the Asian imagistic tradition, what you might call the haiku tradition. But while he focuses on the beauty of the natural world, he also ponders such subjects as the origin, end and ultimate mystery of the world. In my view, Wright is one of the most ambitious contemporary poets and one of the most accomplished.”
Hart believes that Wright has been enchanted by the beauty of Pound’s poetry, not for ideological reasons.
“Wright is an enlightened, liberal-minded poet who would no doubt attribute some of Pound’s offensive political ideas to his psychological problems.”
Talking about Wright, Hart said, “I greatly admire him also as a person. He is as humble and friendly as he is talented. Even though he is one of the most honored poets in the U.S., he has always been devoted to students and young writers. I remember how kind he was to me when I was beginning my career as a writer. He has also been supportive of the work of several of my William and Mary students, who continue to visit him.”
Wright is Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets and the Sounder Family Professor of English at the University of Virginia. He is recognized by his peers as among the best poets of his generation.
Jay Parini, of Middlebury College, an academician and noted writer said, “Wright remains stoic about such achievements: it is not the poet, but the poems what counts.” He quotes Wright, “One wants one’s work to be paid attention to, but I hate personal attention. I just want everyone to read the poems. I want my poetry to get all the attention in the world, but I want to be the anonymous author.”
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.