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C.D. Wright on Her Own Work

C.D. Wright

[This essay is composed of several paragraphs in a meditative mode that move back and forth between poetic issues and autobiographical reminiscences.]

The division between urban and rural is the only serious border left to us. One serves to undermine the other. One could just as easily serve to mine the other. I am a serious border-crosser. I like the sticks; I am, if you will, of the sticks. I like the ruins of New York City second only to the sticks of Arkansas. I am mostly a spectator at the Friday Night Fights of poetics; I return to the preserve of the white page hungover. I wake up slowly. I wake up almost ready. I make myself ready.

I am fortunate to be from the Ozarks. My family is there. My original family. I am glad for that. The trees are there. The trees true me. I hear from journalists in Arkansas that the present policy of the National Forest Service is to chainsaw the redbuds and dogwoods in the forest, then to poison the open stumps to create a more uniform woodland. Naturally the poison runs off. Uniformity, in its motives, its goals, its far-ranging consequences, is the natural enemy of poetry, not to mention the enemy of trees, the soil, the exemplary life therein.

[. . .]

Narrative is. You have to know when to enter in, when to egress, when to provoke, when to let be, be. However, narrative is overly identified with southern poetry; it is a global condition, not a literary convention. Poets should be willing to exploit the rind of narrativity, and be more than willing to be lost at the heart. Exceptional intellection is being exercised to decry narrative. I am not learning much from that line of refutation.

[. . .]

Almost none of the poetries I admire stick to their labels, native or adopted. Rather, they are vagrant in their identifiications. Tramp poets, there you go, a new label for those with unstable allegiances.

If you have any particular affinity for poetry associated with the South, it is with idiom. I credit hill people and African Americans for keeping the language distinct. Poetry should repulse assimilation; each poet’s task is to fight her own language’s assimilation. Miles Davis said, "The symphony, man, they got seventy guys all playing one note." He also said, "those dark Arkansas roads, that is the sound I am after." He had his own sound. He recommended we get ours.

[. . .]

For a long time the critical question has been Can poetry survive? It is mutable, profound, sentient, resplendent, intense, stalwart, brave, alluring, exploratory, piercing, skillful, percipient, risky, exacting, purposeful, nubile, mirth-provoking, affective, restive, trenchant, sybaritic, mad . . . enough? Can it still enkindle or enlarge us? And even if yes, yes to all of the above, is it enough? Among poets this inquiry is persistent. And if the answer is nay, all this and more is not enough, the question becomes With what, then, will we hail the children?

From C. D. Wright, "Provisional Remarks on Being / A Poet / Of Arkansas," Southern Review 30:4 (Autumn 1994), 809-811.

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