Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
In “Wheeling Motel,” the title poem of his newest collection and the second poem he read during the 2008 Friday Afternoon Poetry Sampler, Franz Wright directly addresses his late father, the poet James Wright.
Many poets speak metaphorically of poets of previous generations as their spiritual and artistic parents and grandparents. For Franz Wright, this is literally true: his father was one of the most influential American poets of the latter half of the twentieth century.
Perhaps for this reason Wright has a deep sense of poetry as lineage. Throughout the four days of the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival, whether giving a reading, a talk or participating in a panel discussion, Wright constantly referred to poets whose work he admired and who had influenced him. For Wright, poetry is not mere words on a page, but something that is alive in the multi-generational community of its makers.
From this perspective, relationships between poets, even if they span a distance measured in centuries, can be as crucial as those between a student and teacher, or between a son and father.
Like Baudelaire, who he describes as “maybe the greatest lyric poet in any language,” Wright does not shy away from the nightmarish image. At the same time, even in his most profoundly personal poems, there is a quality of careful attention to the exact image that we expect from poems in the Asian tradition.
Both Imagism and Surrealism have left their mark on Wright’s work. Indeed, Wright has not only acknowledged Baudelaire as an influence, but also Rilke, Char, Rimbaud, Whitman and his own father. Perhaps it is his willingness to learn from other poets that has taught him to forge poems that bear the unmistakable stamp of a unique talent.
The poems Franz Wright read in the 2008 Friday Afternoon Poetry Sampler can be found in his most recent collection, Wheeling Motel. Visit the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival Poet Pages for a biography of Franz Wright.
Be sure to return for upcoming Poetry Fridays, when we will feature many poets from past Dodge Poetry Festivals in the weeks ahead, including Simon Armitage, Robin Robertson, Patricia Smith and others.