Beginning of November
by Franz Wright
The light is winter light.
You’ve already felt it
before you can open your eyes,
and now it’s too late
to prepare yourself
for this gray originless
sorrow that’s filling the room. It’s not winter. The light is
and you’re alone.
At last you get up:
and suddenly notice you’re holding
your body without the heart
to curse its lonely life, it’s suffering
from cold and from the winter
light that fills the room
like fear. And all at once you hug it tight,
the way you might hug
somebody you hate,
if he came to you in tears.
Why have I collected so many of these bleak Franz Wright poems?
Probably for the same reason I like the music of Leonard Cohen. And the face of German actress Nina Hoss. And subtitled movies with barren landscapes, colorless cityscapes and violin music in the background. And the very November light of this poem,
this gray originless
sorrow that’s filling the room.
Because sometimes the world has too much raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and you just need to take out your own personal collection of sorrowful things and examine them, one by one. Wright is the master of that domain.
I’m imagining a Franz Wright-Julie Andrews sing-off. She’s in her high-necked white nightgown. Her face beams as she hugs a pillow to her chest. He’s in old boxers. She warbles on about cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels while under her silver tones his voice rumbles out an opposing truth—
your body without the heart
to curse its lonely life
Enjoy November, everyone.
Here’s a biography of Wright I’ve posted several times previously.
Franz Wright’s face is his biography. This is what a hard life looks like. But it’s a heroic face too, considering the suffering he lived with: beatings by his father, worse beatings by his stepfather, parental abandonment, manic-depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Like writer Mary Karr, his onetime colleague and friend, he overcame addiction and converted to Catholicism, finding some measure of stability in the last sixteen years of his life.
Franz Wright (1953-2015) was born in Austria where his father, the famous poet James Wright, was studying on a Fulbright scholarship. The older Wright left the family when Franz was eight, and only stayed in sporadic contact with the family. When Franz was fifteen he sent his father a poem, and his father wrote back, “Well I’ll be damned. You’re a poet. Welcome to hell.”
The younger Wright graduated from Oberlin College in 1977. In 1984 he was winning awards and teaching at Emerson College when he was fired for “drinking related activities.” He sunk into a years-long depression, wasn’t able to write, and attempted suicide.
In 1999 he married a former student, Elizabeth Oehklers. He converted to Catholicism, got sober and was able to write again.
He died earlier this year of lung cancer at age 62.