On Thursday, March 20, the literary magazine of Boston College Stylus hosted a poetry reading featuring Franz Wright. Wright is the winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection Walking to Martha’s Vineyard.
The poems selected for the reading came from several of his collections, and they featured “Recurring Awakening,” “Elderly Couple,” “Peach Tree,” “The Soul Complains,” “Lamp,” “Crumpled Up Note Blowing Away,” and “I Dreamed I Met William Burroughs,” among others.
Wright explained some of his feelings toward his own poems, commenting on the reactions of his audience. “I’ve never tried to read it. I don’t know if it makes sense to anyone else,” Wright said of his poem “The Party at the End.” “It makes sense to me,” he said.
“‘I Dreamed I Met William Burroughs’-I just write [poems],” he said. “I don’t take responsibility for them any more than I do for my dreams. You just sort of write what you write. It’s not your fault.”
After reading, he noted, “I have no idea what I’m saying. That’s okay, within limits. If it looks like you know what you’re saying, then I think it’s all right.”
One of his poems, “The Last,” stemmed from Wright’s relationship with his father. “I loved my father-that’s what the poem’s about,” he said. “I loved my father very much. I spent my whole life missing him,” he said. He disagreed with his father’s idolization of poets such as Mary Oliver, however, saying that poets are simply human beings.
“To me, that makes them more interesting, the human ideals that we all go through.” Wright said. He noted that writing poems that might offend people like his father is not something that should be avoided. “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I’ve had my feelings hurt a lot, and I didn’t die from it,” he said.
Another of his selected poems, “Robert, Cat” was inspired from Wright’s own life experiences and his health. “I’ve been in poor health, and I’ve been told so many times that I was going to die, and I never do,” he said. “It gave me extra time. It really put a fire in me.” The poem, he said, also stemmed from some of the feelings of imprisonment that came from his health while he was writing.
The poetry reading ended with a book signing and a Q&A session for audience members, during which Wright commented on the journey to success for a person working alone.
“How do you imagine anyone as a solo artist? What do you think they did? Did the sky open, did someone hand them a scroll?” he asked. “The fate of anybody who wants to do something as an artist is two things: If you love something enough, you’ll do it. I didn’t make any deals with the devil or God or anybody else. I had lots of very wrong-headed ideas, but how could I know? How does anyone do it alone? You just do it.”
According to Wright, the process of writing is a fairly lonely one, but he enjoys it.
“I like them, and I have fun writing them,” said Wright about his poems. Imagining not writing them, Wright said with a laugh, “My God, what would I do all night? Then I’d really be a mess. It’s good for crazy people to have something to do.”
Wright also commented on the process of translation, as several of his poems are translations from French or German.
“It’s like learning how to take something apart and put it back together,” he said. “For me, translating is the best way to read. It’s just such a pleasure. Plus, it’s more fun. It’s terribly difficult, but I think it’s an art.
“You have the sense that there is a solution, you just have to find it. It’s good to have that feeling in writing,” said Wright.
At the reading, Wright also announced that he is done with writing, and that he has published his last collection. “I never thought I would say anything like this,” he said.