Saturday, January 16, 2016

This Saddest of Weeks

This saddest of weeks got sadder with the news of the untimely death of the American poet C.D. Wright. She's not a household name (which poets are?) but it has been clear for some time that I'm not alone in appreciating her work. I first came across her in Poetry magazine, and for one of the few times when reading that magazine, the work leaped out of the page and made me want to read her books. There was an anthology available on import (since reissued by Bloodaxe in the UK) which I bought. The poems I'd read were by no means representative, but I wasn't disappointed, far from it - the reason being that she was one of the most diverse of American poets, moving from beautiful lyrics, to prose poetry to experimental sequences - yet none of these detours detract from her ability to communicate fully to the reader. The book she collaborated on "One Big Self", a book of poems and portraits about prisoners in the U.S., is as good an example as any; absolutely unique but open and communicative.

I never got to hear her read - she came to the UK last year, but only appeared at events down south. Despite the North's large number of poets, events, festivals and publishers, we let ourselves down by failing to attract the best of American and other writers. Her death was apparently sudden and unexpected, and I know very little about her as a person, yet I love her poetry without reservation. Contemporary American poetry can sometimes seem hard to unravel; there are so many poets, producing so much work; but I don't think things change that much - you just need to find one voice that you connect with and that's enough. I know little about American local differences (she is always referred to as an Arkansas poet, a southern poet), but that goes to show how our uniqueness is what can make our work travel globally, rather than our homegeneity. There are some good (though never typical, she was never typical) examples of her work on the Poetry Foundation website, but I often come back to the lovely "Lake Echo, Dear." Asked to read at Stirred, the Manchester women's poetry night, they ask all readers to read a poem by a female poet that you love. I read this one.

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