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Posts Tagged ‘alcoholism’

‘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.]

 

 

 

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Poems are in front of Jack Daniels bottle and further down in front of some cinnamon drink

Poems are in front of Jack Daniels bottle and further down the same shelf in front of some cinnamon drink

 

Alcohol

by Franz Wright

 

You do look a little ill.

 

But we can do something about that, now.

 

Can’t we.

 

The fact is you’re a shocking wreck.

 

Do you hear me.

 

You aren’t all alone.

 

And you could use some help today, packing in the

dark, boarding buses north, putting the seat back and

grinning with terror flowing over your legs through

your fingers and hair . . .

 

I was always waiting, always here.

 

Know anyone else who can say that.

 

My advice to you is think of her for what she is:

one more name cut in the scar of your tongue.

 

What was it you said, “To rather be harmed than

harm, is not abject.”

 

Please.

 

Can we be leaving now.

 

We like bus trips, remember. Together

 

we could watch these winter fields slip past, and

never care again,

 

think of it.

 

I don’t have to be anywhere.

 

Image 1

The Drunk

by Franz Wright

 

I don’t understand any more

than you do. I only know

he stays here

like some huge wounded animal—

open the door and he will gaze at you and

linger

Close the door

And he will break it down

Image

 

Debbie Downer resurfaces, just in time for the holidays.

 

But really, for anyone living with an alcoholic, Christmas and New Year’s can be a horrible time of year. Time off from work means more time at home, more time for drinking and causing havoc and pain. Not to mention the self-loathing an alcoholic feels when he knows, at some level and to varying degrees, that he’s an asshole.

 

In these two poems, poet Franz Wright addresses both sides of alcohol abuse. He knows them intimately, having grown up with an alcoholic parent and then becoming one himself.

 

Mostly our sympathies lie with the child of an alcoholic, so quickly and keenly sketched in “The Drunk.” The options for living with The Drunk are bad and worse, because however a family member of an alcoholic reacts—ignoring or engaging, or in the language of the poem, opening or closing the door -–they’ll pay for it.

 

The central image

 

he stays here

like some huge wounded animal–

 

reminds me of a Swedish public service advertisement, one of the best ads I’ve ever seen. In the ad (link here), adults who get drunk are literally monsters, frightening, incomprehensible, and embarrassing to their children. The expression on the little boy’s face as he gets buckled in his seatbelt breaks my heart.

 

The flip side of this sad picture is the soul-crushing pain of the alcoholic, pain that is both the cause and the effect of drinking. It’s always hard to sympathize with a person who acts like a jerk and an idiot, but in “Alcohol,” Wright lays out the torture of living with addiction. The narrating voice describes to the drinker the pain ahead–

 

putting the seat back and  

grinning with terror flowing over your legs through  

your fingers and hair . . .

 

and offers to make it better. Because drinking is also fun. Wright’s drinker is offered a road trip with his best buddy, his most reliable friend. Traveling drunk is easier than facing up to the pain of a broken relationship. Any reservations the drinker feels about his actions–

 

What was it you said, “To rather be harmed than  

harm, is not abject.”

 

are shut down with ridicule–

 

Please.

 

By turns the drinker is insulted and consoled by this seductive interior voice. There’s no doubt who’s winning this one.

 

I left both poems in the liquor aisle of my local drugstore. Spreading merriment and cheer, that’s me.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 1.48.03 PMFranz 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.

 

 

 

 

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