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About this poet

On January 6, 1949, C. D. Wright was born in Mountain Home, Arkansas. She received a BA degree from Memphis State College (now the University of Memphis) in 1971 and an MFA from the University of Arkansas in 1976.

She has published numerous volumes of poetry including One With Others (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), which received the 2011 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets; 40 Watts (Octopus Books, 2009); Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), which won the Griffin Poetry Prize; Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (Copper Canyon Press, 2005); One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (Copper Canyon Press, 2003), with photographer Deborah Luster; and Steal Away: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2002).

Her other books include Deepstep Come Shining (Copper Canyon Press, 1998); Tremble (Ecco Press, 1996); Just Whistle: A Valentine (Kelsey St. Press, 1993); String Light (University of Georgia Press, 1991), which won the Poetry Center Book Award; Further Adventures with You (Carnegie Mellon, 1986); and Translation of the Gospel Back into Tongues (State University of New York Press, 1981). She has also published two state literary maps, one for Arkansas, her native state, and one for Rhode Island, her adopted state.

While much of Wright's early work is narrative in content, her later poetry is characterized by experimental forms, sharp wit, and a strong sense of place, most notably rooted in the Ozarks and Rhode Island. "Poetry is a necessity of life," Wright has said. "It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so."

About her work, a reviewer for The New Yorker wrote: "Wright has found a way to wed fragments of an iconic America to a luminously strange idiom, eerie as a tin whistle, which she uses to evoke the haunted quality of our carnal existence."

Among her numerous honors are a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Award, the Witter Bynner Prize, and fellowships from the Bunting Institute, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She served as Poet Laureate of Rhode Island from 1994-1999.

In 2013, Wright was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Anne Waldman praised her selection, saying: "Brilliantly astute, generous, witty, panoramic, celebratory, C.D. Wright is one of our most fearless writers, possessed with an urgency that pierces through the darkness of our time. She carries a particular Southern demographic that bears witness, that investigates history, humanity, and consciousness in powerfully innovative, often breathtaking language. Hers is a necessary poetics, on fire with life and passion for what matters."

With her husband, poet Forrest Gander, she edits Lost Roads Publishers. Wright teaches at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.


Selected Bibliography

One With Others (Copper Canyon Press, 2010)
40 Watts (Octopus Books, 2009)
Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon Press, 2008)
Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, with Deborah Luster, (Copper Canyon Press, 2003)
Steal Away: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)
Deepstep Come Shining (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
Tremble (Ecco Press, 1996)
Just Whistle: A Valentine (Kelsey St. Press, 1993)
String Light (University of Georgia Press, 1991)
Further Adventures with You (Carnegie Mellon, 1986)
Translation of the Gospel Back into Tongues (State University of New York Press, 1981)
Terrorism (Lost Roads Press, 1979)
Room Rented By A Single Woman (Lost Roads Press, 1977)

Obscurity and Selfhood

C. D. Wright, 1949

Not far
from a college.
Nevertheless.
A man
living by himself

kept his fighting cocks in plain sight. Each had its own tether and
miniature shed and dish with embossed sobriquet. Their domestication
reserved for battle before the table. Gallus gallus domesticus. A young
male, a cockerel, my husband's patronymic before the adoption. Some hens
are disposed to poach another's egg. Once there were teeth. Given certain
conditions they could come back. If not a full set. Even now a breathing hole
has to be pipped for the offspring to break out. This is done with an egg tooth.
Not a true tooth. Love among the chickens involves a circle dance. He is
a wonderful dancer. It goes straight to her brain. Before and after they prefer
to wash off in dust. Ashes will work if no dust. If they aren't forced into shedding
one another's blood, they can live until their heart gives out.
The cock
the man
could not
resist
loving.
He withdrew
from
the ring.
Yet
relinquished.
To settle
an unforgiven
debt.

My question is this:
Would you describe yourself
as a wanderer, a friend of the court, amicus curiae, falsely construed as a snitch, a blue yodeler,
   an apostate, a lost cause, a bird in the house, a biter, a common blogger, a contender, a purse
   snatcher, a false witness, a palterer, a silkie, a backyarder, channeler
for malevolent spirits, girt in the loins, figure on a shard of black pottery, moderately active, a fog
   machine, a visionary miserabilist, a chook or a cuckold, a roundhead, a little seditious, a slow-wave
   sleeper, a dead mule, a gongorist, honey on the comb, half goat half god, a white throwback, crossed
   with a mongrel, a genesis, a retired fighting
cock,
a doll
named
Memphis.

Copyright © 2013 by C. D. Wright. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2013 by C. D. Wright. Used with permission of the author.

C. D. Wright

C. D. Wright

Author of numerous volumes of poetry, Wright has served as the poet laureate of Rhode Island, and in 2013 was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem
Some nights I sleep with my dress on. My teeth
are small and even. I don't get headaches.
Since 1971 or before, I have hunted a bench
where I could eat my pimento cheese in peace.
If this were Tennessee and across that river, Arkansas,
I'd meet you in West Memphis tonight. We could
have a big time. Danger,
poem
A girl on the stairs listens to her father
Beat up her mother.
Doors bang.
She comes down in her nightgown.

The piano stands there in the dark 
Like a boy with an orchid.

She plays what she can
Then she turns the lamp on.

Her mother's music is spread out
On the floor like brochures.

She hears her father
poem

Night:     wears itself away    clouds too dense to skim
over the shear granite rim       only a moment before
someone sitting in a mission chair       convinced  101%
convinced    she could see into her very cells
with her unassisted eyes     even into extremophiles
even with the