‘Tis the season to frolic and I’m idle and sluggish. Nothing like a summer cold to sour the sunshine. And nothing like soured sunshine to call forth the de facto fairy godfather of misery, poet Franz Wright.
So happened I had six Wright poems to dispose of. Leaving them around the small town in northern Michigan where I’m recuperating was as good as an Advil for getting me off the couch. If laughter is the best medicine, At least I’m not as unhappy as all that runs a close second.
Let’s jump right into the pit. At an abandoned old ski motel I left “Reunion.” (The poem is on the blue wall next to the corner doorway.)
Wright is forever grappling with the ghost of his father, poet James Wright. This particular grappling slays me. And this self-portrait—yikes—
What am I? A skull
biting its fingernails, a no one
with nowhere to be
On another abandoned building I left “Thoughts of a Solitary Farmhouse,” which I know is a favorite of many Wright fans. (The poem is taped to the concrete post in front of the big bush.)
What a beautiful memento mori, bleak and horrifying though it is
“The Comedian” brings us into a real house of horrors. I taped it to a sign by the side of an empty road.
The illegible note hung like a crucifix . . . the cops turning on the son who called in for help . . . the smell of alcohol, the drool . . . impossible to touch him or get near. . . that final laugh . . . unimaginable pain.
Moving back towards his painful childhood, “The Day” is an eerie recreation of what amounts to A Good Day for young Franz. (It’s on the spigot of the water fountain.)
Anyone who had a dysfunctional parent can relate to those times of relief when the dysfunction was dormant for one reason or another.
At the entrance to an uphill hike I left “Depiction of Childhood.” (Poem is taped to pole.)
I’ve looked over Picasso’s drawings of the little girl leading the minotaur and in each she’s holding either flowers or a dove, so it’s interesting that Wright has her lifting a lamp instead. Going back and forth between the poem and the different versions Picasso drew is giving me loads to think about. Like the minotaur, I’m entranced and thrown off.
In the absence of a sea-sea I taped “Infant Sea Turtles” to a sea wall on an inland lake.
This is such a strange poem, taking us from present day to prehistory to biblical times, from land to sea to the moon, to a place where man-made terms are arbitrary (“what we call the moon,” “Eve, or caesarean child,” “the great scar called the sea,” “lover or child”) which is the very space that poetry grows out of.
Here’s a bio of Wright from a previous post:
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 of lung cancer at age 62.
[Note: This post is part of my summer project. I have multiple poems from a few poets—poems from the recently departed Marie Ponsot among them—and I’ll be lumping them together in a single post for each poet.]
And I hope you’re over the summer cold soon
________________________ Julia Ralston Website | Instagram
Much better, thank you! Love the work you post on Instagram, Julia.
God this was torture to read. I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. And yet, thank you. I do hope that cold is long gone and you are beginning to enjoy summer. It’s been so humid here. I totally relate to not being able to move.
Thanks for checking in, Pam! I imagine your curly locks are curlier than ever in high humidity (I could use some of that)
Sometimes, even in summer, it helps to feel the heft, the gravitas of life that only Franz Wright can deliver. It certainly doesn’t seem pleasant to let in, but then again, it’s already there. And thus the relief.
Glad to know your cold is better. Planting poems is a great elixir.
“Heft” and “gravitas” are much more on the nose than “misery.”
Your comment calls up Jack Gilbert’s “Alba”:
After a summer with happy people,
I rush back, scared, gulping
down pain wherever I can get it.
So fun to see a few of my favorite Up North Boyne City spots!