Poets Laureate

Thursday, April 30, was the final, formal appearance of current Poet Laureate, Charles Wright, at the Library of Congress. Rather than do a lecture, there was a conversation between Wright and the fifteenth Poet Laureate (Wright is the twentieth), Charles Simic. Don Share, the editor of Poetry, moderated and asked the questions.

I used to be a great fan of Simic and while I don’t read as much anymore, his collection of prose poems, The World Doesn’t End, had an earth shattering effect on my sense of poetry. Wright is someone who I only learned to enjoy after I first heard him read at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Everyone on stage was charming and intelligent and witty, but there was too much charm and wit on display and not enough talk about poetry. I like Share, but I rather wish his more contemplative editorial predecessor, Christian Wiman, has been on stage.

I brought a copy of The World of the Ten Thousand Things: Poems 1980-1990 for Wright to sign. The later poems in there, taken from Zone Journals, struck me very forcibly as being reminiscent of Pound’s Cantos (everywhere, I am constantly reminded that I haven’t finished my systematic reading of it yet). Partly, it was the Whitman-esque form of the lines and stanzas, but also the deep influence of Italy on both men. But you could tell that Wright had once been in love with Pound and carried the Cantos with him in a backpack. During part of the conversation, Wright did mention the Cantos and Pound and their crazy genius. He clearly loved Pound very much. When I asked him about Pound, he said he wasn’t really thinking about that ‘crazy genius’ when he wrote Zone Journals. He had read the Cantos as a young man, but not since. Which is fair. Works like that are for a young man’s adoration and an older man’s guarded nostalgia.

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