Shining Rock Poetry Anthology

A Retrospective Essay by William Wright

A Cathedral of Sound: A Retrospective Essay by William Wright

Some portions of this essay were integrated from previously published pieces, including
"Why I'm a Southern Poet" (Rattle), and "An Addiction to Sound." (Shenandoah)

To write a retrospective essay about one's poetry is for me a worrying task: I've been thinking about it for a few restless nights, and I'm reminded of the mistakes I've made, the luck I've enjoyed, and the hard work I've invested. What makes it worrying, I suppose--distinct from my own in-built hypochondriacal nature and neuroses--is that I've recently tumbled into a pit of uncertainty about my work; indeed, this pit writhes with Socratic ignorance, questions slithering through my consciousness about my poetic "tics," reminding me (relentlessly) about what I don't know (almost everything), inducing the hope that more reading and experimentation will help me charge some of the stasis in which I have found my work trapped.

There are worse problems to have. I constantly remind myself that if these are my life's creative problems, then I am blessed, for I have learned that this is indeed not a problem. For me, to be satisfied with one's work means the death of one's artistic maturation. It sounds hyperbolic, and to many it might be, but to lie complacent in my aesthetic predispositions is to ensure that no matter how vivid and strange I wish my poetry to be (the strangeness, I need add, is not the "befuddling" kind of "eccentricity" prevalent in much contemporary poetry but endeavors to be part of any given poem's coherence and radiance), it will give way to an exercise in boredom if I avoid or outpace the tenacious, impish critic crawling up and down my corpus callosum, forever shaking its head and croaking, "No, it's not good enough." Simply put, the idea of a retrospective at thirty-seven years old is both helpful and eerie, because if I'm lucky, I have a few decades left, and I pray those years are in direct proportion to the growing dimensions of my work.

I guess any good retrospective involves artistic genesis and to accept that "geography is fate," as Natasha Trethewey has said. Beyond the freak chance that I was born in the South, and beyond the fact that I'll most likely live the rest of my life somewhere in or near the South, what made me a Southern poet are elements at least partially irrelevant to geography. Essentially, I am a Southern poet for four reasons:
1) My parents divorced in 1998, when I was nineteen.
2) I lucked up and found a couple of like-minded friends.
3) I stole a copy of a certain book from a creative arts institution.
4) I had an honest-to-goodness epiphany/existential moment.

I wrote a lot as a young teenager--mostly fiction, and mostly short fables. And when familial dysfunction overwhelmed me, I wrote horror stories, my language arts equivalent to rebellion, a rebellion that climaxed with a novella about the end of the world when my mom and dad finally called it quits after twenty years of marriage. As a child--since about five or six--I fancied myself the mediator of my parents' arguments (to be clear, they never imposed this position on me), and, over time, I came to consider myself partly responsible for the strength of their relationship. When they finally parted, I did not handle it well emotionally, because my family--my mother, father, sister, and I--were, at our best moments, a warm, loving, and convivial family. And when my mom moved out, I felt like part of me had turned ghost, that I had somehow failed them.

Long before their divorce in 1998, I encountered a couple of other guys--namely Brandon Wicks and Paul Chesser--now both fiction writers, who became very close friends very quickly, during eighth grade. Through middle school and high school, our idea of a good time was walking rural roads at night, coming up with fictional "what-if" scenarios (usually post-apocalyptic or surreal. Here's an actual example: "What if the world were destroyed by a nuclear holocaust and, in addition to surviving the fallout and radiation, we inherently understood that our exact selves also survived as dual entities within a 50-mile radius of us, hellbent on hunting us down and killing us? What if the ghosts of ourselves were the only other "selves" on Earth? What if they knew where we are now and were trying to find us out of malefic intent?"--Yeah, we were weird.), and sharing--in embellished, fantasist detail--the dreams we had had the night before. We avoided parties and, for the most part, other kids our age--at least early on. We were escapists, and in the little stories we wrote--essentially for one another--we created a sort of immature habit out of escapism. We were often very serious, but we joked a lot too. Our jokes were tortuous, baroque, completely absurd. Paul and Brandon lived in suburban sections of Aiken, South Carolina, while I lived near a peach orchard in Johnston, South Carolina, and my dad had a small pond set up on a berm of mica-flecked grass in his backyard, so my house quickly became the most mythic ground, the landscape catalyst to sometimes all-night conversations about writing, dreams, aspirations, fears. We'd trudge those orchards and that countryside together--a slight sense of danger always freighting us--whisper conspiratorially about matters far larger than we had a right to entertain. We knew nothing, but we yearned to know something, something that school and parents, and even our own night walks, simply couldn't impart. We genuinely yearned for something unutterable.

Later in high school, I wrote a story called "Mikomo's Crane," a fable set in modern-day Japan that won me a spot in the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts, an esteemed six-week arts summer program at Furman University for high school students. One prerequisite was that all students accepted into the creative writing section of the school had to participate in both genres: Fiction writers had to study poetry and vice versa. One of the books furnished to us was The Made Thing: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern Poetry, edited by Leon Stokesbury and published by the University of Arkansas Press. Long part of this story, short: I turned immediately to poetry after coming into possession of this book. After reading poems by Robert Penn Warren, Charles Wright, Jack Butler, Betty Adcock, and especially James Dickey, I felt as though the poems were written to me--that they were a kind of literary summons, an invitation, a challenge, even. Though we were to return the books at the end of the session, I took mine home with me with no intention of returning it, and--unusual for me--with no guilt. The book still sits on my shelf, now signed by approximately half its contributors, the spine broken, the pages dog-eared, and some sections referenced so many times that they've unlatched from the casing of the book and precariously sit loose in the volume.

Finally, with this book in tow, in the winter of 1999, my parents now split for good, I decided to trek out alone into the orchard. It was a bitterly cold January night. The trees were like little scrawls of ink written into the air, and the sky was so clear that the long veil of the Milky Way was clearly visible, the starlight casting the ground in a blue snow-like glow. Every few seconds I saw a shooting star, and even the distant radio tower to the west and the silent jets high up, their red lights pulsing, intensified the beauty. I was so cold that my hands were numb even in my pockets, and, when I reached mid-field, I looked back through the woods toward my house. I could see the distant window lights flickering, and they looked exactly like dying embers in a hearth. I stared at them for a long time. Out of the north I heard the grinding shunt and howl of a train clacking toward some northern county, and I imagined it moving through small towns I knew, and eventually on into ones I didn't. This experience--as uneventful as it might seem--truly made me love the world. It made me love the world with a sort of joyful sadness, mixed with the urgency mortality freights us with; it made me know I had to do something about the feeling--to record it, to try to recreate it or re-experience it as much as possible. And so I became a poet for life.

It was only months after this experience that I discovered James Dickey's poem "The Strength of Fields," wherein his narrator describes a man walking alone at night and something akin to my own epiphany--"Tell me, train-sound,/ With all your long-lost grief,/ what I can give./ Dear Lord of all the fields/ what am I going to do?" Later in the poem, Dickey answers for me, for a great many of us: "What difference is there?/ We can all be saved/ By a secret blooming." The poem seemed, if anything, a permission to search, to at least try. It had nothing to do with heritage, with South as a banner to wear--it was just the template, it was simply the landscape that supplied the tools to ignite the imagination.

But my imagination was limited; I was young, and my first full-length collection, Dark Orchard, is, to me, rife with wistfulness, lugubriousness, and sloppiness. I mustered the courage a few days ago to look through it, and I cringed on nearly every page, minus one or two poems. I began to write Dark Orchard at eighteen--that alone should speak volumes. Unfortunately, the folks at Texas Review Press believed in the book enough to publish it, but I wince to merely think of it, so suffused is it with melodrama and writing too dependent on my formative influences: James Wright, Robert Penn Warren, Theodore Roethke, and, already noted, James Dickey. Indeed, these four poets abide in me for their peculiar and distinct idioms, but I have tried to move away from them as much as possible--not in terms of content, as I share many of their central, elemental concerns. I have tried to synthesize my influences into a voice unmistakably "William Wright," with (and this is the self's harsh critic again) mixed results. Still, in Dark Orchard, I like the poem "Cruelty," a piece that explores a memory of how my next-door neighbor and I used to commit violence to wild creatures as we played outside, knowing no better as little boys, until one day the wilderness--and the wilderness in us--fought back:


As boys we sloughed toads from my mother's water
oak in fall, when their skin was as dead leaves hit
with rain. It wasn't enough to trap them in buckets or cages,

but to hack like sloppy surgeons, breaking them
into blossoms of viscera, calming our need for slaughter,
to siphon soft gems from the earth's yellow belly.

We didn't flinch until eggs spilled from a fat narrowmouth:
her dark ooze and salty smell didn't bring guilt,
but disgrace, a chance discovery of something too beautiful.

Quick-footed in the autumn field of goats
dotting Acker's farm, we forgot her for the orb weaver
spiderlings hatching from a fern's center, the floating

paper-brain hornet nest ripped with sumac switches.
We tore through spider webs in the vacant paper mill,
trailed anthills with cherry bombs

until both in their stunning strength denied this
absurd apocalypse, caught us by surprise:
We limped home, pocked with welts and bruises.

Those nights of healing, my fever sleep filled
with strings of black pearls, tadpole puddles,
spadefoots croaking along the bogs. I dreamed

of hurting you, kicking hard in your stomach and chest,
blood gushing from your mouth, slicing deep
to the bone. Weeks later, after the pain became myth,

something else died. I heard the clicks of your pellet gun
in the upper pasture, your feet smashing asters
and drooping holly vines. Separate soldiers,

far from the other's frailty, we searched through vaporous
creek flagellates, crimson minnows and salamanders,
through lives with less distinct faces,
something new to kill.

It's odd to me that the most recent poem I've written, "Boyhood Caught Between Water and Blood," shares some of the motifs of "Cruelty," but (I hope) with a more studied, attuned felicity. Eamon Grennan recently awarded "Boyhood Caught Between Water and Blood" the grand prize winner at for their annual poetry prize, and I'll share it here, a poem that recalls a different, far more significant cruelty from my youth:

Boyhood Caught Between Water and Blood


A boy, I knew nothing of the copperhead's fangs,
swam with them most summers, sank with their faint mint smell
and blue-lit ripple flames of their bodies in creek water--

Kestrels of light
lunged through the water surface and flattened into one great trellis
of sun, every contour of the creek bed
branded in a fire that wove
                                                          its shape into shapelessness.

Salamanders and crawdads never bothered me,
nor the ticks that teemed on every branch--

                                                        I was alone
in that chapel of water and wind.

I lived in a yellow house smothered in leaf-shadow
and would dream at night of the creek, clear
as the smell of wood smoke
on a winter dusk blown with stars, 
                                                       even as June rains
engraved the water
with meaning, forever blurred by the sudsy iron that
                                                       turned water to blood.

My eyes itched with a grief
that was mine and not mine

                every night, every night.

North into woods, just out of view,
leaned a rotten three-walled shack     
with no roof and the words "die nigger" inscribed   
in blood on the west wall--the letters
flanked in blood-red swastikas,

                                                          a shade of crimson
like the dace that darted in the creek's oxbows;
and there were still signs
of a struggle: scraps of a green T-shirt,                                                                       
a broken window toothed  in      the same blood,
the shattered pane like an eye
blinded,                                           never storm-cleansed,
                                                          never burned away.


A boy, I carried sun-drunken notions
of time as song, the crispness
of fall and its subtle rumor--

I did not know why the wind
stirred some father-witted guilt
in me, and as I jumped
from one side of the ditch
to the other again and again,

I could not evade visions
of a man taken by a hoard of others
and dragged through
briars and the indifference
of deerberry and resurrection fern--

I knew even then, a boy,
that the man was being forced through
the final door for nothing
more than pigmentation,
and that the only sound he made
were the gasps of air the men      

kicked out of him      
as he lay fading in silence,
his last possession.

And there in the bramble still lay his clothes.
And there on the jagged stone lay the vision of his head.

A boy, I craved design, 
a structure through which I came to
understand or escape                                                                                                                                                                                    

words that followed me
like the sound of footfalls
in the leaf-litter just behind actual passage.

Some nights in spring the song thrush
bore out its brash and beautiful music,
as if the world had torn
and revealed an answer,

as if something more had pursued
me and kindled my insomnia
with a plea.


Once a black boy named Seneca
ran with me down the road
and his family waved at us
and shouted encouragements.

We leaned headlong into our running
until breathless,
reckless through the moths
and the distant orchard light       

and the moon-curve against     
the back of my grandparents'
home where a lamp flicked
on and glowed as we passed.

That same night my grandmother
yanked me in and belted me
until I bled,
screaming the scriptures
until I could weep them back--

my crime the mere nearness
to a "nigger boy," the "tacky" fact
that we were both fierce with joy.


Eastward, heaps of goat bones dotted                                                                    
a baseball field overgrown in sicklepod,
                                           and every dusk for months
Seneca and I met to sift

through those mythic shapes, to stare
into the eye sockets of many skulls
as if they might rouse in us some memory
of another time, another creature,
to elude the heat and stifle

of that place, scalded with resentments
extravagant as the trees' canopy,
the woods between my house
and the other world always nightfall,
                                      unbroken shadow.

Nowadays, I often attempt to build in "micro-poems" as a challenge. The indented lines in this "Boyhood. . . " are not arbitrary. If they were isolated, they would read

Its shape into shapelessness:
I was alone
even as June rains
turned water to blood--
a shade of crimson
never storm-cleansed,
never burned away.
And every dusk for months,
unbroken shadow.

I would never expect a reader to notice these embedded poems upon reading the poem any number of times; it's just something I do occasionally to allow what I call the "world behind the world" to take on a dimensionality that does not corrupt the poem's central motifs. If a reader catches it (as they sometimes do), I'm delighted.
After Dark Orchard, I published a strange book called Bledsoe, again with Texas Review Press, a novel in verse about a mute man in Yancey County, North Carolina, who tends to his mother as she suffers from a brain tumor. Bledsoe came from a recurring dream I had in spring of 2009. I quite literally dreamed almost nightly that I was Bledsoe. I could not move my mouth in these dreams, and a woman with a bushy corymb of shocking white hair lay in a bed of a one-room cabin, the interior intensely hot with a wood-burning stove. This woman sometimes asked me for a rag or salve. She spoke in a deep, Appalachian drawl. I loved her with a dedication so powerful that, upon waking, I longed to re-enter the dream to make sure she was tended to, even as my other dream-self knew her fate. When I finished the poem, the dreams stopped, too, which points to another one of my issues: parasomnias, which I'll touch upon a bit later. Bledsoe is grinding, Saxonic fatalism and has not attracted a wide readership. However, I have found, with a mixture of bemusement and joy, that those who've read the book are strangely dedicated to it, talking to me about it at conferences and readings. What more could I ask for? I am adapting Bledsoe into a novel with the help of my wife, Michelle. We are slowly collaborating on the book, as I don't want the novel to be "good." I want it to be beautiful. 

Bledsoe, the verse-novel, takes place sometime in the early twentieth century, and Bledsoe, who in the book loses his father and is in the process of losing his mother and thus his identity, bears the soul of a poet who cannot speak (and cannot write). Illiterate, his mind is not bereft of words; he conceives of ways to deal with his mother's strange behavior and the violence of her disease. One night, when he escapes the house, he wades into a pond and thinks the following:
Dear God of the dead-haunted
  heart, this water streams

with night and stars. My mind
  a tinderbox, set to flare

from the fire your voice conveys.
  Faith a wooden pendulum--

this surface a door that gathers
  to take me in. God of my kin

and bindweed bloom, glacier
and chert, light darkens

within her, back there in
the overrun meadow, back

there in the house where I was
born. My mind is the field

where cattle ribs inherit
earth, stripped by vultures

and rain, where that house
slants down into soil.

My body a shadowbox, a grave
of silt. An aging

pine sheathed in resin,
leaning away from the source

thqt helped it begin. Swarmed
with buried incident. Piled

the days, gnawed them back,
whittled down by those failed

purgations of grief. And no words
left but the words I remember:

is farewell.

Later, in the same section, Bledsoe begs a favor of God, but he saturates his deity with qualifiers, as though making sure that it is his God:

              God, seeped in cells of wind-

fall apples, bee-burrows
              drunk on the hymns

of excess, singing the hours
             to barns and fences, singing

the sweet smoke above
            the tree line, far distant,

hedged by the cold wind
            that descends to greet it,

God, have I to tarry

I did not have to tarry too long until my next book was published by Louisiana Literature Press, Night Field Anecdote, released in 2011, the same year (and nearly the same month) as Bledsoe. In Night Field Anecdote, I first began to explore poems constructed from a condition I have known as sleep paralysis. Some nights, in the hypnagogic state--that twilit area between wakefulness and sleep--I will suddenly become paralyzed. It's almost always frightening. I will see, hear, feel, and sometimes even taste and smell things around me. I have seen some strange things--many, many strange things. Night Field Anecdote opens with "Sweet Gums Near Pond at Night," a poem whose narrator strives for transcendence, even as he is forced to acquiesce to a paralytic state as he tries to sleep. After hearing sweet gums blow in the wind outside, the speaker is

sleepless, afraid to move,
as though what keeps me
awake breathes this solemn room
alive, grinning behind me
in the hackled dark.

As in many of my poems, family enters:

As though a couple
gazes in through the window,
my insomnia the final answer
to their longing
for the afterlife,
voices flickering blue
in their open mouths.

Ultimately, the speaker is so fatigued by the vision that

I want to lie down and rest, embroidered
into autumn's declension,
recalling nothing, no voice,

to know the blood
of the earth rushes over my skull
and trust it is music.

In the next poem, "Trumpet Creeper," I attempt to marry science with a very personal, familial anecdote. In general, I try to combine macrocosm and microcosm--the universally vast with the infinitesimal. Looking back on this poem makes me proud, as I was severely, debilitatingly depressed in 2005 when I wrote this poem. Indeed, it was the only poem I wrote that year, but I'm glad it exists. "Trumpet Creeper" revels in scientific diction in the first several sections. Words such as "morphology," "microfossil," "preglacial," "deciduous," "seedpod," and "vibrissa" dapple the lines but give way to a stark confession of organic mortality: "I am meat, salt, water. / In my skull hums a three-pound sentient chunk." Finally, the tragedy of the poem, the poem's crux, explores the stark reality of an ancestor's death:

My great uncle Basil died when he was five years old
On a farmhouse floor in Iredell County, North Carolina,
half his face boiled from his skull.

Quilts and winter storms
broke my great-grandmother
to bone and a scorched gown,

pre-dawn dimness on a copper cauldron
that held the lye he tipped and spilled,
his little fingers charred,
hard as rust.

When I combine myriad tones in many of my poems, perhaps typified by "Trumpet Creeper," is to ultimately create the resonance of something much larger than the poem--to create the resonance of a novel awash in variegated textures and colors.

The poem "Ferns" is a favorite at readings, as it was written as a (partially failed) attempt to get over a "stupid" fear of mine: any type of fern, but particularly those that hang on the porches of suburban homes and slowly spin in the light. Living fossils, ferns seem strangely conspiratorial to me. The fear is called ptedirophobia, and Sigmund Freud had it bad, apparently. I'm not sure what that says about me, and I don't want to know.


Hard to trust the way they spin and nod in the light,
always looking away.

Older than the creeks they flank, their fossil tongues
fold to the sun in green, outstretched

syllables, asking their one question. When a body passes,
they turn and glare, eyes nested deep

in their black heads. Dense and sentient with more
history than the sweet gum that seeps

and falls, or ground water that diminishes
in the fattening sun, these reversed medusas

lick through stone, outstare all the locked houses
of blood and hair, outspeak

the millennial sky-clatter of bird language, leaf-litter,
and lichen, reach out, take.

Night Field Anecdote is built on the dichotomy of the dreamlife and "real life," often conflating the two to reveal what James Dickey once called the "realer than real." I wholly subscribe to the notion that something thrums just beyond our perception, and poetry is one way to almost access it.

My most recent full-length book, Tree Heresies, published by Mercer University Press in 2015, like Night Field Anecdote, endeavors to decontextualize the perceived world into a world that might be. In this book, I play with sound a little more freely than in other books, including in the poem pair "Aubade for Yellow Jacket" and "Nocturne for Cicada." In "Aubade. . ." yellow jackets haunt the speaker's back yard, disappearing into their ground nest:

Grass crackles.
such a drone, a throb of anger here.
Hard to hate them for this madness

to outdo what will do them in, as fall
bleeds queens to new flakes and new kin
hatch, winter-hidden, waiting.

A couple of very popular poets have claimed that no poem about cicadas can be good, and whether mine is worth anything is up to the reader, but I at least found the claim idiotic enough to write a poem about cicadas, a kind of yin to the aubade's yang. Here is "Nocturne for Cicada":

Down where pines scuff the moon,
They rattle the woods to whir and static
scrims of sound, vatic music so loud

at times it lodges in the ear like a burr,
carries through sleep a soundtrack
of farmhouses under stars, the slant

land's windfall light leaves they settle in to scar.
Red-eyed dusk-chisels: they whittle the mind
so sharp it conjures collapsing ice

on a pond at winter's bladed end,
a crack in the attic window. Fork tines
clicking on a clean plate. The miracle of a silver

pocket-watch unclasped and ticking still
after years locked in a cedar box. To scrape
and sing the sun down, swell poplar

and elm through wind and wind time
back to earth's first songs. To play
that instrument, counterpoint the night.

Tree Heresies offers some shorter, sonically Hopkinsian pieces, such as "A Path Through Walnut Trees After Rain," a sensory experience that was so overwhelming to me that I attempted to capture it in words, to create a linguistic succulence:

A Path Through Walnut Trees After Rain

To be clothed in the smell,
A skin of sweet-rot, flowery,
life-dark as a pond floor--
their fruit felled, wet, fat,
half-black, half-green in slack grass
sugared in bees and calyx sap,
where blue squill and fern lift
to a bedraggled sun
from this pocked ground,
its mosses bright, this vanishing,
and later, starblown night.

Perhaps Tree Heresies central poem is "Nightmare, Revised," one of the most difficult poems I've ever been moved to write. A few years ago, my father entered a state of anxiety and depression that was so crushingly painful to him and to those he loved that naturally my dreams began to shape themselves into patterns that reflected my concern for him. One day  I awoke and defiantly labored over the poem, attempting to "undo" the dream, to sew its horrific visions into coherence. Perhaps this is what most of Tree Heresies attempts to do: to face the ominous and understand that beauty can be drawn from it.

Nightmare, Revised

Now it is not a man pinned eviscerated
to a barn door and stretched mothlike
to show his brisket,

the drying jewels of his viscera
and his teeth red-tinged, eyes
scappled bald. Not it is

not a plum-colored sky over
foothills of ruined chimneys,
the world forever October.

Instead, I stand in a field where there is no
Barn, and the pinned man, my father,
has been let down, sewn back to life:

He walks through his home, his loneliness
a dark carapace. His mother lies
in a pine box in a South Carolina

graveyard. By now her eyes are fused
and sunken. By now her mouth is
a leather smudge. She wanted cremation

but the family would not have it.
The bones of her fingers poke through skin--
The moon impales the night.

The smell of smoke blooms on the sweet-sharp air
and I feel a joy under the thin arbor
of passing clouds.

I feel a joy, because there is no secret order
of moth or plum, chimney
or bone, only the pungent fact

that somewhere, somewhere beyond my sight,
a fire burns part of this
land, gone, gone. 

At this moment, as I battle a few personal struggles as everyone does, I'm working on a book of essays, a new book of poems, a New & Selected volume, the novel, and finishing up a collaborative book. I'm also editing several books. I believe I overcommit as therapy, although I do not know the rhyme or reason of that yet, as I seem in a constant state of stress, an Ouroboric spinning in which new material, new knowledge, must be learned or made.

Why do I continue to write--no matter the genre? As I have noted elsewhere, I am addicted to the sounds of words. I am obsessed with sonic lushness--if, for example, I go to a poet to read for pleasure, it will most likely be Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, early Heaney, etc. I love circuitous, complex applications of sound, so much so that in recent years certain sounds summon synesthetic experiences. For example, I pair certain consonantal repetitions (particularly "w" and "s" and "l" sounds) with the sight and smell of flora. I think instantly, for example, of Hopkins's "When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush," a line that conveniently marries my synesthesia with the actual motif. This line is delicious to me. I savor it and could say it again and again, which leads to my next idiosyncratic relationship with sound.

I am a fan of verbigeration, the nonsensical repetition of words or phrases. While I never apply this technique within my own poetry, in life I do repeat certain words--some as benign as "and"--over and over until they lose their meaning and take on a purely sonic simplicity. I liken it to staring at someone or something for so long that they take on an otherworldly radiance, simultaneously lose a certain context and yet gain another one as an object that transcends their mere tangibility.

Such practices have their drawbacks. Even in short-lined poems, I'm perhaps overly conscious of imbuing each line with sonic dynamism. The result is often that my poems, relative to other the work of others now being published, appear (or sound) antiquated. But I must confess to applying sound in such ways to combat the prosaic in a lot of our contemporary poetry. I find much contemporary poetry boring, and I flinch at such a general admonition--but it's true: most of the work I encounter in journals seems like lineated prose. There's an argument in my mind about the "truth" of poetry--what it's meant to say, and many writers argue that poetry needs to sound like someone talking, someone relaying the message to reader in a way devoid of adornments. It's not that I don't believe in the validity of this style: I appreciate that it exists, but I won't read it when I encounter it. I don't think the purity of truth is in proportion to a transcription of actual experience, but just as likely to emerge through a purely imaginative and lyrical exploration--the latter of which opens more possibilities (in my case) for interesting--and mostly not completely purposeful--applications of sound.

For me, sound need not be limited to idiosyncratic sound relationships as in Hopkins, but can be enjoyed in a less pyrotechnic way. One reason, for example, that I love James Dickey's early work is his reliance on the anapest, which gives his work an almost engine-like quality, a sound-fuel that creates tension, energy, builds to a revelatory climax.

Simply put: I can't separate my life from my preoccupation with the sounds of words. I find them strange and incantatory, and I enjoy poets who apply them in similar ways. When I look back on my work--with the exception of one mishandled book (I was young and didn't know any better), I'm proud and humbled by what I've yet to learn. If imagination and sonics keep me occupied, as long as I feel I can detect even a modicum of the world behind the world, I will trust my poems continue to find a few generous readers.

"Cruelty," from Dark Orchard and poems from Bledsoe are published with the permission of Texas Review Press.  Poems from Night Field Anecdote are published with the permission of Louisiana Literature Press.  Poems from Tree Heresies published with the permission of Mercer University Press. 

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