Guest poem sent in by Ron Pullins
(Poem #616) Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly Asleep on the black trunk, Blowing like a leaf in green shadow. Down the ravine behind the empty house, The cowbells follow one another Into the distances of the afternoon. To my right, In a field of sunlight between two pines, The droppings of last year's horses Blaze up into golden stones. I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on. A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home. I have wasted my life.
When I was in college in the midwest, I was fortunate to stumble into a course taught by a visiting professor, David Ignatow, who -- as a poet himself -- felt the absence of recognition for those who were alive and writing the best poetry there was. It was all too easy to read the dead poets who had of course no way to contradict all the meaning we imputed to them. Consequently we students were required to find and read deeply of a living poet. I was fortunate to find James Wright, known but not widely known at the time, hiding out as he was mostly in Minnesota. Wright's poetry, like his life, always seemed to me to be ominously cast. He always perceived the detail, and rejoiced in it, but the details also carried -- as they do in this portrait of a lazy afternoon in a hammock in Minnesota -- all the forebodings of death and decay. This poem in particular leads to its devasting and quite unforgettable last line. Yet what struck me most -- and maybe it was my youth that buoyed me so -- was the gloriousness of it. The poem is so strong up to that final line, that how could you not be swept along to see that only in stopping, pausing, wasting your life, could you be allowed to see the bronze butterfly, hear the cowbells, yearn for home. In such a way Wright's poem, for me, became this bittersweet but deeply felt affirmation for living, relishing that short interval we have before we head back home. - Ron Pulins Biography: James Wright James Arlington Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on December 13, 1927. His father worked for fifty years at a glass factory, and his mother left school at fourteen to work in a laundry; neither attended school beyond the eighth grade. While in high school in 1943 Wright suffered a nervous breakdown and missed a year of school. When he graduated in 1946, a year late, he joined the army and was stationed in Japan during the American occupation. He then attended Kenyon College on the G.I. Bill, and studied under John Crowe Ransom. He graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1952, then married another Martins Ferry native, Liberty Kardules. The two traveled to Austria, where, on a Fulbright Fellowship, Wright studied the works of Theodor Storm and Georg Trakl at the University of Vienna. He returned to the U.S. and earned master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Washington, studying with Theodore Roethke and Stanley Kunitz. He went on to teach at The University of Minnesota, Macalester College, and New York City's Hunter College. The poverty and human suffering Wright witnessed as a child profoundly influenced his writing and he used his poetry as a mode to discuss his political and social concerns. He modeled his work after Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, whose engagement with profound human issues and emotions he admired. The subjects of Wright's earlier books, The Green Wall (winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, 1957) and Saint Judas (1959), include men and women who have lost love or have been marginalized from society for such reasons as poverty and sexual orientation, and they invite the reader to step in and experience the pain of their isolation. Wright possessed the ability to reinvent his writing style at will, moving easily from stage to stage. His earlier work adheres to conventional systems of meter and stanza, while his later work exhibits more open, looser forms, as with The Branch Will Not Break (1963). James Wright was elected a fellow of The Academy of American Poets in 1971, and the following year his Collected Poems received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He died in New York City in 1980. -- [broken link] http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?prmID=74