There is a poem in my second book that channels Wright's voice so effectively that even someone who knew Wright's work fairly well might mistake it for the real thing. James Wright's poetry
was once tremendously important to me, but these days, when I go back to it, the work feels sentimental to me. I'm teaching Intro to Creative Writing this semester & the anthology I'm using includes what is probably Wright's second most famous poem, "A Blessing."
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
As I was reading this poem to my creative writing students a couple of weeks ago, about a third of the way through the thought occurred to me -- actually articulated itself as a silent editorial comment -- This is really pretty awful
. The thing that bothers me the most is a kind of self-congratulatory celebration of the speaker's own sensitivity. I guess, to be honest, the last couple of times I'd read the poem it had fallen a little flat for me, but as in a dying love affair, I had used my powers of self-deception in order to speak the lines with something like conviction. This last time, though, it was all over between us. The piece seems to ask a great deal more than it gives back, which is the standard definition of sentimentality, formulated admirably here in a Wikipedia entry
Sentimentality is on one hand a literary device that is used to induce an emotional response disproportionate to the situation, and thus to substitute heightened and generally uncritical feeling for normal ethical and intellectual judgments, and on the other it is a heightened reader response that is willing to invest previously prepared emotions to respond disproportionately to a literary situation.
is probably Wright's most famous poem. I like it better than "A Blessing," but not as much as I used to. Golden stones? My favorite Wright poem is probably "The Old WPA Swimming Pool in Martin's Ferry, Ohio."
Some further comments
of mine regarding Wright on Robert Peake's weblog.