|Brian Forrest “Women Wearing Hats” oil on canvas|
Welcome to Plume, Issue # 48.
June: and once again the unlovely task of saying good-bye to a poet: Franz Wright. And to say that good-bye, his long-time friend David Young, whose essay follows. Here let me tell you that this is a rather special issue of Plume. And not only for this introduction and poem, but for its Featured Selection: an essay on revision by Carol Moldaw — sure-footed as always, insightful, and for many of you sure to elicit nods of assent, bending over the page, or rather your screen, like one of those toy drinking birds who dip their beaks in glasses of water. So: if you read nothing else in this issue (really?) I urge you to take up the Featured Selection at once.
But, now, that essay:
I loved Franz Wright.
He didn’t always make that easy. While our particular friendship never descended into quarrel and abuse, other friends, mutual friends, were treated unjustly to his huge spells of anger; my sympathy for them often retarded my admiration for him.
One knew that mental illness and addiction released that anger, fueled lifelong by a hugely unhappy childhood, and one also knew that for every bridge he burned Franz eventually built a new one, often repairing friendships that had seemed irremediably damaged.
When he arrived at Oberlin, a shy and tentative undergraduate, it didn’t take long to realize that he was nourishing and rapidly developing an immense poetic talent. I did what I could to give it room and encouragement, but I was scarcely alone. Oberlin was full of poets, students and faculty, to whom he could and did turn, people who could interact with his passion and growth.
Over the years there has been a remarkable consistency, of style and insight. Here is early Wright, still an undergraduate:
In a hospital room
I have to turn my face
from the bright needle;
I see it, nevertheless,
and I see the blood
and I see the test tube
in which my nurse carries it
obliviously, like the candle
in a sleepwalker’s hand.
Clarity of language, natural phrasing supported by natural lineation, a voice that sounds spellbound and casual at the same time: these characteristics and values would never be abandoned. Here is the same voice, late, from his 2013 collection, F:
. . Do you
In the night’s windowless darkness
when I am lying cold and numb
and no one’s fiddling with the lock, or
shining flashlights in my eyes,
although I never write, deep down
I long to die with you,
does that count?
That so many readers have now found, and come to treasure, these remarkable poems is ample testimony to this poet’s skill and dedication.
One anecdote will help illustrate our friendship, which was marked always by his generosity and our mutual affection. At one point Franz experimented with finishing his undergraduate education elsewhere, and transferred, in the mid-seventies, to another school. It didn’t suit him, so he came back to finish here, and even stayed on a few years after graduating. I had not pressed him to stay or come back, but I was pleased by his return, and I wrote a little poem. In it I treated him as a revenant, noting the reputation he already had for a kind of gothic sensibility, more lugubrious than not, even delighting in the macabre. As though he was a kind of Poe:
ONE WHO CAME BACK
I can’t be sure
why we should want you among us
you with your bruised clothes
your fingers thickened by pity
terror’s night watchman, mopping blood
where the books lie stitched with quiet
who stood in the grass near the graves
striking the match of darkness
but I know we seem to need you
the way we do bread or warmth
so I’m out here in the moonlight
pounding nails in your footprints
as if that could make you stay.
From The Names of a Hare in English (1979)
He took the joking in good part. Too few of the recent obituaries have taken notice of Franz’s sense of humor, the wit that kept him balanced, short-circuiting the self-pity and teasing the reader about the improprieties that are so often brought to the act of reading.
I loved Franz Wright. His death was expected, even overdue, and his long illness was marked by an extraordinary productivity. Late in life, much reformed and strangely happy, though still remarkably ornery at times, he crafted a good death for himself.
So why am I so devastated? Another friend gave me the answer: you were like a father figure to him. That means you’ve lost a son.
Yes, that’s what it feels like.
May 22, 2015
How to follow that? Again, charmlessly:
And oh why not be crass: The Plume Anthology of Poetry V 3 — is on sale now.
In this issue’s Editor’s Note you’ll find more on availability, price — and some very kind words on its contents (and, blushingly, its editor).
For more on this issue’s cover art and forthcoming Featured Selections, please see the Editor’s Note.
Finally, David Cudar’s book recommendations, after a brief respite given last month’s subject:
Much more news later, in detail, on readings, ventures, poets as always paring things to their core.
Note: we are in the process, now, of lining up fall readings for Plume — NYC, Boston/Cambridge, Chicago, LA, New Orleans, London, Paris, perhaps Amsterdam if we can work it out. If you’d like to read at any of these cities — or have the wherewithal to gather a few poets in a city not mentioned above! — please email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
I do hope you enjoy the issue!