National Poetry Month, Day 28: Franz Wright


Always, since I discovered him in my last year of graduate school, Franz Wright’s poetry is with me. Even during one of the times when I’m not really reading much poetry, I pick his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book Walking to Martha’s Vineyard off the shelf occasionally and read “Fathers,” a terribly sad poem about Wright’s own father, poet James Wright, and about God, whom Franz Wright discovered somewhere along the way. My own faith is very nebulous, but for some reason when I read about God in Franz Wright’s work it feels incredibly powerful. I guess that’s the mark of an excellent writer–to be able to make non-believers into believers…or something.

Franz Wright’s life, as recorded in his poetry, has not been an easy one. There was alcoholism, homelessness, mental illness, and a great deal of other tragedy. Here is “Asking for my Younger Brother,” from Ill Lit. Enjoy.


I never did find you.
I later heard how you’d wandered the streets
for weeks, washing dishes before you got fired;
taking occasional meals at the Salvation Army
with the other diagnosed. How on one particular night
you won four hundred dollars at cards:
how some men followed you and beat you up,
leaving you unconscious in an alley
where you were wakened by police
and arrested for vagrancy, for being tired
of getting beaten up at home.
I’d dreamed you were dead,
and started to cry.
I couldn’t exactly phone Dad.
I bought a pint of bourbon
and asked for you all afternoon in a blizzard.
In hell
Dante had words with the dead,
they had no bodies
and he could not touch them, nor they him.
A man behind the ticket counter
in the Greyhound terminal
pointed to one of the empty seats, where
someone who looked like me sometimes sat down
among the people waiting to depart.
I don’t know why I write this.
With it comes the irrepressible desire
to write nothing, to remember nothing;
there is even the desire
to walk out in some field and bury it
along with all my other so-called
poems, which help no one–
where each word will blur
into earth finally,
where the mind that voiced them
and the hand that took them down will.
So what. I left
the bus fare back
to Sacramento with this man,
and asked him
to give it to you.


(? Franz Wright, from Ill Lit: Selected and New Poems, Oberlin College Press, 1998)



Notes on a Week

I know I promised, barring disaster, a Fall Reading List, but I woke up thinking meh. Suffice it to say that on my nightstand are Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions, Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, a book by Eleni Sikelianos called The Book of Jon, a book about tigers that my husband recommended, and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, which I started last night. Oh, and those damn New Yorkers.

Been a little crazy in Crazytown of late. I remarked to another preschool mom the other day that I am a “yes-sayer.” She said breezily, “Oh, I’m not. I’m so good at putting up boundaries and saying ‘no’ that sometimes I look around and realize I haven’t seen anyone all day!” I instantly liked her.

But not me: I took on a bigger position at the school because they needed someone, I decided to revamp one of the major assignments in my composition class, I agreed to a more aggressive blogging schedule over on popcorn, I took an extra shift in the writing center?you know, the usz.

And fun stuff, too. My friend A. is getting married this weekend. I arrived at her house yesterday morning to find her and her family dreadfully hungover. The wedding dress was slung across a chair in the living room. The bride answered the door in false eyelashes, heavy mascara, and sweatpants, talking on her cell phone. Her mother told me three times, “I’m so glad you’re here!”

There’s a short story in there somewhere, I know it.

I’ve coined a new phrase: “procrastiblogging.” As in, blogging instead of writing your book or doing your schoolwork. Not that I’m guilty of this or anything, but you know.

Have been thinking I want to start a food blog…

Need to learn how to use Twitter…

I have had a good idea about how to treat all the extraneous characters in my memoir?all the fellow travelers, the hostel owners, the guides, the people who are a very real part of the fabric of life when you’re backpacking for a year but who make the fabric of a book a little overcrowded. I think I have figured out how to retain those characters without them being too distracting.

I am ruminating on titles, too. I have two possibilities that are exciting me a little (still top secret, sorry).

The end stage of a book is excruciating, you know that? I keep telling myself I just need to work harder at finishing it (maybe true; see above about being compulsive yes-sayer and procrastiblogging). On the other hand, I remember that writing is a process and that this process may be slower at some times than at other times. That maybe dragging out this last revision is just





And to quote Garrison Keillor, here is a poem for today.


God grant me the serenity to work things

hard, and carefully.

I accept the things I cannot change. I lie

fallow between mountains.

God grant me the hamster wheel, fly wheel, nautilus.

Copper pipe with brass fittings.

God grant me the Mill river, all in a sheet

over the dam. Grant me the wide Connecticut

and everything that falls beneath it

because it is fast, and silent,

and sometimes I feel breathless.

(? Susie Meserve, 2012)