Vallum Chapbook series No.3 - www.vallummag.com
“The sick wolf wandered off/ grazing / in his wound’s limping shadow…”
These lines begin Franz Wright’s ‘To a Poet’ and images of damage, sickness and isolation cling to the figure of the poet throughout this handsomely produced chapbook. Baudelaire, for example, is characterised as a “sick and wrathful man.” For Mr. Wright, the purpose of poetry is painfully to articulate the loneliness and desperation that the poet shares with his fellow-humans.
The act of writing is described as “composing/ a letter/ to my inner no one”. In ‘Day One’ the would-be poets in an imagined classroom are told not to think about technique, but to confront “that disfiguring explosion/ no one witnessed” at the heart of their own lives. Every human in these poems is on the verge of disintegration.
Riding the subway, Mr Wright glimpses himself in the “ruinous drooling but otherwise fine human/ hamster attempting and repeatedly failing/ to pour cough syrup into a spoon.” Elsewhere he identifies with the “zombies, the pacers, the shit-fingerpainters and furious nocturnal somnambulists” who still inhabit the institution where he was once held in an isolation room.
The verse is composed in spare lines, mostly trickling thinly down the page. A name-check for Basho locates the work within the conventional North American mainstream, following the aesthetic first articulated by Ezra Pound a century ago, which looks towards the imagistic clarity of an imagined Japan, rather than to the metrical norms of the English tradition. The translation of René Char’s ‘Le Baiser’ makes no attempt to render any pleasure-giving equivalent of that poem’s clinching, satisfying final rhyme.
These are bleak tormented poems written as though from inside a desperation. Their phrasing is often powerful, but the vision of life is narrow.