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A Short History of the Shadow


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Charles Wright, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award, teaches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.


Wright's latest is a collection of typically loose-limbed meditations whose long lines drape languorously across the page. Equally relaxed, the poet centers himself in the domestic confines of his study or yard, observing the incremental motions of a world nearly on hold: "how the days move, one at a time,/ always at night, and always in my direction." Wright's universe encompasses late afternoon and evening obscurities, seasons past their peak biding time till the next one arrives. All are rendered in his signature style: the slow pace and passive imagery ("Evening arranges itself around the fallen leaves"), the free but hardly exuberant association prompted by consideration of what's readily seen ("The landscape that goes/ no deeper than the eye"), and the casual allusions to European writers and locales. This observational state, of course, becomes a metaphor for late middle age, its diminished assessments of what lies ahead and what has been accomplished ("I've made a small hole in the silence, a tiny one,/ Just big enough for a word"). Gravely wistful, these poems by the National Book Critics Circle Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Wright are best read in the day's waning moments. Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

No attentive reader would ever mistake Wright's evocative, sprawling poems for poems by anyone else; many readers, however, find it hard to tell his mature works apart. Wright (who won the Pulitzer for 1997's Black Zodiac) follows up Negative Blue (2000) with a moody, winning collection that plays to his long-recognized strengths: balanced and lengthy musical lines; ambling meditation; beautiful Blue Ridge landscapes; nods to American, Italian and Chinese poets; and a self-aware, pragmatist-cum-Taoist resignation to the fleetingness of all things. "Caught in the weeds and understory of our own lives," Wright says in the opening poem, "proper attention is our refuge now, our perch and our praise." That attention migrates through his evocative collocations of phrase and detail. Two striking suites of short poems with long titles use anaphora and prayer to explore mortality and the night sky: "The late September night is a train of thought, a wound That doesn't bleed"; "O Something, be with me, time is short." Another suite, "Relics," swerves from a similar plan into distractingly elaborate allusions to Wallace Stevens. The concluding set of poems, called "Body and Soul," lists "Nightmemories, night outsourcings," deciding that "Ephemera's what moves us." Few readers will see much departure from Wright's work of the 1980s and 1990s; many, however, will be fine with that. (Apr.) Forecast: Besides his 1997 Pulitzer, Wright (who teaches at the University of Virginia) has racked up almost every other major award, including the National Book Award (1983) and the Academy of American Poets' Lenore Marshall Prize (1995). Those accolades may not translate into attention to this new volume, pubbed during a busy poetry month and closely following Wright's last, larger book. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"[Wright] finds the sublime in the unlikeliest places, and at his best makes you think such places are exactly where to look." --William Logan, The New Criterion

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