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Virginia Poet Charles Wright Explores ‘Inexhaustible Power of Words’

March 1, 2011 at 6:46 PM EDT
Poet Charles Wright has authored more than 20 books of verse and won numerous awards. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author reads some of his work and shares his sources of inspiration.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, another in our series on poets and poetry.

We profile Charles Wright, author of more than 20 books of verse, and winner of numerous honors, including the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.

His most recent collection is titled “Outtakes.”

CHARLES WRIGHT, “Outtakes”: My name is Charles Wright. And I live in Charlottesville, Va. And I have lived here for 27 years now. And I write poems. That’s my reason for living.

Most of my poems start with me looking out the window or sitting in the backyard as dusk comes down, and what that sort of translates into — into my thinking at the moment.

I used to think the power of words was inexhaustible,

That how we said the world

was how it was and how it would be.

I used to imagine that word-sway and word-thunder

would silence the Silence and all that,

that words were the Word,

that language could lead us inexplicably to grace,

as though it were geographical.

I used to think these things when I was young.

I still do.”

As one gets older, one tries to do more with less. I was much more loquacious when I was younger. The most recent things I have done have been quite brief, six-line poems.

I once said, if a guy can’t say what he has to say in three lines, he better change his job. Well, I haven’t gotten that far yet, but at least I’m down to six lines.

(LAUGHTER)

CHARLES WRIGHT: And they’re hard. It’s hard to get more into less, but it can be done.

“Looking out the West-Facing Window”

How is it one comes to terms with life?

One never does,

I suppose, everything getting narrower, the children drunk

and abusive, the sky breaking up, but the clouds not moving.

Our lives are such common stories,

fallen leaves on a long path.

We wait it out, I guess, counting our sins and our have-not-dones.

Immortality’s for others, always for others.

The subject matter will change, what I’m looking at and what I’m thinking about and so on and so forth. But the content, which is language, landscape and the idea of God, particularly the last one, is unchanging, unvarying. And it’s behind all of my poems, even the ones that may not look like it.

That’s how poetry has always been for me. It’s been a way of sustaining my questions about life and mortality and all those things that we don’t like to talk about, but they’re always there, you know, knocking on the window.

I think I’m going to take my time,

life is too short

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for immortality and its attendant disregards.

I have enough memories now for any weather,

either here or there.

I will take my time.

Tomorrow’s not what I’m looking forward to, or the next day.

My home isn’t here, but I doubt that it’s there either –

Empty and full have the same glass,

though neither shows you

the way.