A READING BY CHARLES WRIGHT
This is called "Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night." Laguna Beach is, of course, on the coast in California between Los Angeles and San Diego.
["Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night," by Charles Wright, from Chickamauga, published 1995 by Farrar Straus & Giroux.]
This is called "Cicada Blue," and the poet alluded to is Federico García Lorca, the great Spanish poet from the 1930s. He has a poem that starts out "Verde, te quiero verde"—"Green, I love you green"—which I steal and change the color of, so no one will ever know . . .
["Cicada Blue," by Charles Wright, from Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems, published 2001 by Farrar Straus & Giroux.]
I'm working on my funny patter between poems, but so far I haven't gotten any. But I'll let you know when it happens.
This is called "Indian Summer II." You should have seen Indian summer one, but— Anyhow, this is the last day of Indian summer, apparently, it's over the hill, it's coming November back.
["Indian Summer II," by Charles Wright, from Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems, published 2001 by Farrar Straus & Giroux.]
This poem is called "Appalachian Book of the Dead IV," which presupposes one, two, three, and foreshadows five and six. I've been working on this, oh God, this project for twenty-seven years, just book after book, I couldn't stop. It was awful. But I was coming to the end of it, and I needed a "paradise," a paradiso. And I looked deep into my heart, and I said, "Chuck. Chuck," I said, "you are not theologically inclined nor do you have the talent to write a paradiso. So," I said, "what are we going to do to finish off this twenty-seven-year project?" I got the idea for a Book of the Dead, which, as you will recall, if you remember reading of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it's a bunch of mantras and amulets and sayings and pep talks spoken into the ear of the soon-to-be dearly departed who is a true believer and knows where he's going. And I thought, Well, I can do that, as long as I'm not the one whose ear is being whispered into. So I wrote some Books of the Dead, and this is number four, and it has a little, a little riff in the beginning from a country song "Let's All Go Down to the River," which I heard years ago, back in the late forties by a guy named Mac Wiseman; it's a traditional song, and a lot of people sing it.
["Appalachian Book of the Dead IV," by Charles Wright, from Appalachia, published 1998 by Farrar Straus & Giroux.]
Wow, that didn't take as long as I thought it would. We're going to be out of here in time for supper. Thank God.
This is called "In Praise of Thomas Hardy," the great English novelist and poet, the wonderful metricist. It of course has nothing to do with Thomas Hardy. But he liked, he said, "I refuse to give up using the word 'smalled' as a verb," and I thought, This is my kind of guy. I never thought about using it as a verb, but what the hell, I mean if you refuse to do it, I'm with you. So this is for you, Tom. Or Mr. Hardy, as we say in my house.
["In Praise of Thomas Hardy," by Charles Wright, from A Short History of the Shadow, published 2002 by Farrar Straus & Giroux.]
This is called "Is."
["Is," by Charles Wright, from A Short History of the Shadow, published 2002 by Farrar Straus & Giroux.]
There's an exercise that one often gives students, which is to write a poem with no adjectives in it, just to show how dependent we are upon adjectives. I often thought that I should give myself an assignment to write a poem without mentioning the seasons or the weather. And then I realized I would be mute as a globed fruit, and so I decided not to do it. So bear with me, okay?
This is called "River Run."
["River Run," by Charles Wright, from A Short History of the Shadow, published 2002 by Farrar Straus & Giroux.]
And then, a poem called "Relics." Let's see, is there something I should say about this? Oh, Aldo Buzzi, Aldo Buzzi is an Italian novelist and memoirist who wrote a wonderful book called Journey to the Land of the Flies about Sicily, which I read once and was quite taken by. So I stole what I could out of it, as any self-respecting American would. It's called "Relics."
["Relics," by Charles Wright, from A Short History of the Shadow, published 2002 by Farrar Straus & Giroux.]
This is called "Why, It's as Pretty as a Picture."
["Why, It's as Pretty as a Picture," by Charles Wright, from A Short History of the Shadow, published 2002 by Farrar Straus & Giroux.]
A small one, entitled "The Wind Is Calm and Comes from Another World."
["The Wind Is Calm and Comes from Another World," by Charles Wright, from A Short History of the Shadow, published 2002 by Farrar Straus & Giroux.]
I am going to attempt, since I'm in a poet-friendly place, to read some poems that I wrote this summer, last spring—one last spring and the others this summer—mostly in Montana. I've never read them out loud. I've never even read them out loud to myself. These are new poems, so I thought I would try some of them. The first one's called "Appalachian Farewell," and I promised myself it would be the last time that I would write about Appalachia, which I've spent forty years doing.
["Appalachian Farewell," by Charles Wright.]
This is a poem called "The Wrong End of the Rainbow," and it's about memory and nostalgia and all that great stuff that some of us here in this room have already fallen prey to, and some of you haven't. But if you're lucky you will.
["The Wrong End of the Rainbow," by Charles Wright.]
I've always thought the sodbuster got a bad press in the movies, and really didn't get his just desserts, and so I wrote a poem this summer in Montana called "The Sodbuster Saloon and Hall of Fame." It's short, so bear with me.
["The Sodbuster Saloon and Hall of Fame," by Charles Wright.]
"A Short History of My Life," by Henry Gibson . . .
["A Short History of My Life," by Charles Wright.]
And this is called "Bedtime Story." It has a German phrase in it which we've incorporated into our own, die an sich, which means "the thing in itself."
["Bedtime Story," by Charles Wright.]
And one last one of these, called "Wrong Notes."
["Wrong Notes," by Charles Wright.]
I'll read two poems. One's real long, and it's called "Arrivederci, Kingsport." As you might have gathered, the town I come from is Kingsport, Tennessee, which is just down 81, and then take a right. This has a list of a lot of people whom you have never heard of, will never meet, and have no conception of, other than the fact that you knew them all under another name when you were in junior high and high school.
["Arrivederci, Kingsport," by Charles Wright.]
I'll spare you nostalgia #3 and go right to the last one, which is an elegy of sorts for my brother-in-law [Tim McIntyre], who died in 1986 at the age of 42. He was a really talented actor, musician, coke addict and alcoholic. Lived hard and died young. He was in a couple of movies, that I don't know, maybe you saw, they're— American Hot Wax was a movie about Freed, and he played Alan Freed in that movie. And he was George Jones in Stand by your Man, and things like that. And he was also a musician, had his own band. His great unfortunate talent was he could do voices, he could do any voice in the world. And he made his living by doing voice-over commercials—the Honda, all the Honda commercials, he did for years. And of course they'd pay him $90,000 a week, and he'd go out and put it all up his nose, which is very unfortunate. Anyway, he was a great guy, and I miss him very much.
The last line of this particular poem is the last line of a song he once wrote. He wrote a lot of songs. Actually, in fact, I'm going to do a variation on one of his songs in the middle of this poem. It's called "Sun-Saddled, Coke-Copping, Bad-Boozing Blues." It's set in Montana as well. Luke happens to be my son, who is in this photograph with me.
["Sun-Saddled, Coke-Copping, Bad-Boozing Blues," by Charles Wright.]
Thank you all very much.