Report by Nicola W.
C.D. Wright recently spent an hour with Professor Cooley’s Advanced Poetry Writing Workshop. While her work can be mysterious and surreal, Ms. Wright is herself plainspoken and unassuming and was generously forthright in her answers to our many questions. She said she got into poetry “rather late” after a short-lived try at law school, confessing that as a young adult, she was afraid of not being good at anything and that she felt “a great longing to be part of something I liked and cared about.” As a child, she cared very much about words, in part because she did not have access to any of the arts except for literature (her father was an enthusiastic reader), and that “books were my families … words were like real things to me.”
Her fascination with language remains; Ms. Wright described poetry as “a process of faith to the language … a truth of the word.” She loves all types of language, sacred, foul, archaic – “all the different layers of language” – and advised us to learn another language, because “when you learn another language, you can see the skeleton of your own.”
When asked about her writing methods, Ms. Wright said she likes to work with phrasing, adding “I never felt I had that much control over line,” that she couldn’t “artificially exact line” on her work, and often prefers to work with internal line breaks. The nature of what she is working on determines how she goes about writing: she is “always waiting for the poem to teach me something.”
Physical location and geography exert a strong influence on the work. (“One Big Self,” her collaborative work with photographer Deborah Luster about Louisiana prisoners was the example she gave.) Her poems often start with just fragments “of things that are giving of a resonance.” As the work progresses, she is always looking for ways to add texture. When writing “Deepstep Come Shining,” Ms. Wright had been very concerned about how it looked on the page, posting pieces of the poems on walls and rearranging them to heighten certain patterns and threads. She was drawn to writing book-length work as she was attracted to “the possibilities of including everything instead of distilling,” but noted that after writing a book-length poem, one must relearn how to write a lone poem!
She addressed the issue of personal courage. When asked about how she had been able to write her more explicit poems, Ms. Wright described herself as “afraid of everything – except on the page,” a point she reiterated at her public reading a few hours later. She shared that the hard part is always “breaking the silence. Even though I find the prospect of breaking into the page terrifying, I have the love for the adventure.” This leads her to keep learning new things and working with different forms. She is not “one of the poets who find their form early on and stick with it.” She likes to turn the page – “to see what’s on the other side.”
On practical matters, she called herself “not much of a planner,” but added that she does keep good notebooks. For us less organized beings, it was inspiring to hear such an accomplished poet call herself scattered, that she felt like “a cat who can talk,” that she “can’t reproduce yesterday, can never find her car keys, and never drives the same way twice.”
Our class readings this semester have focused on work by non-American poets, so it was also interesting to hear Ms. Wright observe that in America, poetry was still “an invisible practice,” that our poets were the “unacknowledged legislators.”
Our time with Ms. Wright went far too quickly but, for me, continues to resonate.
C.D. Wright was the 11th Florie Gale Arons Poet. This annual program is sponsored by NCCROW (Newcomb College Center for Research on Women.)