Monday, August 10, 2015

Franz Wright*

Franz Wright (1953—2015) is an American poet who has written more than twenty books of poetry. He died of cancer on May 14th. He is best known for his collection Walking To Martha's Vineyard (2004) for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. He and his father, the poet James Wright, have many things in common. Besides having both won the Pulitzer, Franz and his father were both victims of alcoholism, mental instability, and cancer — which took James Wright's life in 1980.

Drinking and drug abuse eventually led to Franz losing his job at Emerson College in Boston, and a downward spiral which included a suicide attempt. His life turned around in 1999 with his marriage to Elizabeth Oehlkers, his embracing of Christianity, and his successfully gaining a life of sobriety. The obituary in The New York Times describes him as a poet "whose work illuminated his passage from abiding despair to religious transcendence."

I am honoured to have received the following note from Franz Wright in 2011, in response to the Kingdom Poets post I wrote about him. It speaks to his vulnerability and of his struggles for success in his life and art:
-------"Just wanted to say that I came across your (marvelously) brief
-------discussion of me, me & my father, my book—and that the
-------friendliness of it was kind of staggering to me, I am so used to
-------the opposite. That is probably too strong a way of putting it,
-------but it feels that way sometimes, open season on FW ever since he
-------held a gun to the head of whoever hands out the Pulitzer Prize &
-------forced them to award it to him. It's remarkable how fast I went
-------from being someone who had fairly actively written and published
-------for thirty years without much official critical attention, then
-------overnight got more of it—and unfortunately at a very unstable
-------time in my life, there have been a few of those—than I would
-------ever have wanted. I suppose I make myself clear enough., I am
-------grateful to you. Franz"


There must be someone else
who wakes in fear alone;
too bad we can’t talk
on our tiny phone.
Someone hidden from the day
like me, preparing to endure the
resurrection of the body, ouch;
or the gentler life to come,
oblivion. Who
mutters in synch with me, Christ
has come in the midst of the world
not to abolish suffering—
but to take part in it.
What does this mean?

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Franz Wright: first post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.