Remembering and Reading C. D. Wright

I am heartbroken by the news that poet C. D. Wright has died. I don’t think I realized until tonight just how much her work has shaped my sense of what poetry can/could/should do.

Just this month, Copper Canyon Press published a brand-new collection of her essays, “The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All,” and believe me, I want that book in my hands right now.

In the coming days, I’m sure there will be many tributes to C. D. Wright, by people who know her work far better than I do. (See this tribute in The New York Times, and this one on NPR.)

But tonight, I’m thinking about  One With Others: [a little book of her days], Wright’s 2010 book-length poem. Several years ago, I taught it as part of a class called “Writers Read.”

If you don’t know Wright’s work, One With Others will give you a compelling introduction to her fiercely humane voice. Here’s the background material I gave the students.

I am a stalwart believer in the bearing a particular geography can have on a writer. I am not just talking about individual experience, but about the effects of temperature, vegetation, animal life, waterways, human structures and institutions. And I have long been an advocate of the integrity of that place in the writing. …

All writing is a risk and a trust; all writing is critical as it pertains to consciousness, and every word of it is for the record.

From C. D. Wright on the Poetic History of Arkansas


Reviews and interviews:

Audio interview on Radio Open Source (March 17, 2011; 33 minutes)

Craig Morgan Teicher on C. D. Wright’s One With Others (Critical Mass blog)

Southern Discomfort: C. D. Wright’s “One With Others” (review by Dan Chiasson in The New Yorker).

C. D. Wright makes “One With Others” a masterpiece (review by Karen R. Long in the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Smartish Pace review of One With Others (by Carrie Meadows)

And here are the writing prompts we used in the class, after having read One With Others together:

Writing prompt #1:

Write an elegy for a place or person that has shaped you. Use collage and repetition to evoke the core elements that made it/him/her so meaningful for you. See if you can stretch yourself beyond your usual limit in some way (in terms of line length, overall length of the piece, source material, diction or subject matter, etc.)

For the collage aspect, try sources similar to those that Wright uses (letters, interviews, newspaper, lists of data that will provide context) or you might try using images (family photos, news or magazine photos), interspersing them and letting them lead you to language you wouldn’t have used otherwise.

Writing prompt #2:

Take an image or line from One With Others that strikes you as particularly potent, and use it as the starting point (and maybe even as a refrain) for a poem of your own.


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