art ~ spirit ~ transformation
e*lix*ir

e*lix*ir   #16
Twin Birthdays 2023
Looking Back on Books
 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Editorial

The Art of a Loving Correspondence

The Writing Life

Trust in Poetry by Tami Haaland

Features

The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, A collaborative work by poet Sandra Lynn Hutchison, composer Margaret Henderson, and painter Inger Gregory
Writing Music for The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, by Margaret Henderson

Poetry

Heather Anne Hutchison
Victor Kulkosky
Linette Kuy

Essays

The Art of Losing by Victor Kulkosky
Yearning for Water: The Story of a Traveling Quilt by Bradford Miller

Personal Reflections on Bahá’í Texts

Fire and Paradise by James Andrews

Letters

Dreaming of a Better Iran: A Letter to Our Fellow Citizens by Eight Bahá’í Students

Translations

“I Want to Walk With You” translated by Bashir Sayyah

Comics

Ruhi & Riaz by Eira

Voices of Iran

Keeping the Eternal Garden by Maryam Afzal and Saam Mozafari
Mrs. Mansouri’s Mission by Shahrzad Mohebbi
Nothing but the Sanctity of the Desert by Nazgol Adyani
Five Days by Bahar Rohani

Interviews

Art and the Creative Process: An Interview with Hooper C. Dunbar by Nancy Lee Harper
An Interview with Erfan Hosseini, Santur Player by Mehrsa Mastoori

Arts

Paintings by Hooper C. Dunbar

State of the Art

Books for Children by Allison Grover Khoury

Looking Back on Books

Forty-eight Fragments by Imelda Maguire
The Divine Melody: Song of the Mystic Dove by Lorraine Hétu Manifold
Walking to Martha’s Vineyard by Franz Wright
Soul of the Maine House by Bradford Miller

Films

‘Abdu’l-Bahá in France by Perry Productions


← Previous       Next →

“The tall blue starry /strangeness of being/ here at all”

A Review of Franz Wright’s Walking to Martha’s Vineyard

by SANDRA LYNN HUTCHISON

This is one of the saddest books of poetry I have ever read. Wright struggles ceaselessly with living — or, to be more accurate, with dying. The thought of death continually plagues him. He can’t get it out of his mind, and I am astonished that anyone could manage to make good poetry out of such bleak metaphysical ponderings, yet Wright does.

In the hands of a less gifted poet, such obsessive broodings as shadow the pages of this volume might seem too dark to bear. But not here. How do these poems work? By nothing if not by conscious magic. The spirit of the poetry is, at times, almost liturgical, working as it does by the interplay of different voices, some posing questions, some offering responses. The imagery often evokes a surrealistic sense of life as “the dreaming/ called being awake.” (“The Only Animal”) But the surrealistic quality of the poems does not in any way compromise their connection to the body and its world. Wright’s is a poetry as spare and lean and muscular as a wildcat fighting for survival and always a little hungry. Tense and, at times, volatile, the poem hunts the prey — that moment of radiance or of gratitude that serves to generate awe.

“Year One,” the opening poem, sets the tone for Wright’s agonizingly beautiful metaphysical journey, his relentless quest for meaning: “I was still standing/on a northern corner.” The poem begins with a brief couplet, a thought severed by a line break, which underlines Wright’s sense of isolation, his loneliness and alienation. Wright’s placement of the word “still” is characteristic of the terse, explosive economy of Wright’s style and serves to underline the poet’s awareness of what he feels to be an interminable amount of time as he stands waiting for an answer to the questions that plague him. He is in a condition of “stillness” as he engages in a meditation of the most urgent sort. Perhaps he is, in his stillness, emulating a “death-like” condition? The northerliness of the corner suggests that Wright inhabits a cold, wintry space that cannot nurture body or mind.

Wright’s sense desolation is heightened by the long line which, together with the wide empty spaces on the page, creates a meditative mood. And then there is an explosion — an image so rich, jarring, and resonantly dissonant that through it and others like it, Wright can be said to have earned his place among the metaphysical poets of past ages, those poets who have delighted in the violent yoking together of disparate elements in order to give a fresh, unexpected view of the subject. He writes: “Moonlit winter clouds the color of the desperation of wolves.” Who besides Wright would have thought of such an image? And yet we can see the grey clouds roving a barren landscape in search of prey.

The next stanza and another explosion — moving from strophe to antistrophe to epode, as if this were an ode to the sadness of being alive in the world, Wright, again, pounces on the prey:

Proof
of Your existence?
There is nothing
but.

The word “Proof,” capped and standing alone in the line heightens the effect. Wright knows the truth. God — a capped “You” throughout the poems — is, for Wright, a verifiable truth. The question sets the scene for the delivery of the answer: the word “nothing” — a word representing a moment of existential angst — is quickly followed by the unequivocally affirmative answer beginning and ending with “but.” There is nothing but God in the world: Wright knows it, and the poem carries the emphatic certainty of that knowledge. Who ever heard of a poem ending with the word “but” — and a “but” set off in its own line and closed off with a period? Yet Wright makes it work. The “but” serves not only as the poem’s ending, but also signals a kind of linguistic and metaphysical triumph over doubt and silence. A familiar and very ordinary connecting conjunction, “but,” here, bears the weight of the great metaphysical truth Wright wants to convey; it carries all the power of a pronouncement.

But Wright’s work is not all ellipsis and compression. In this volume, there are prose-like poems whose long lines overflow with sadness, even despair, but also surge with the kind of abundant love — human for God, God for human — that Wright’s occasional relief from his psychic darkness generates. As the lines run the gamut of this paradox, they build toward the kind of embracing love that is at the heart of the architecture of a poem such as “One Heart.” The long lines of this poem create a meditative effect, while the abrupt shifts of mind, time, and tone build a structure capable of sustaining the weight of an ending in which the poet asserts the lived truth of a blissful oneness with divine love:

Thank you for letting me look at Your frightening
blue sky without fear, and your terrible world, without
terror, and your loveless psychotic and hopelessly
lost
with this love.
(“One Heart”)

What we are left with after finishing this book is an understanding of what the world is to Wright and how essential words are to his living in it. As Wright writes in “Icon from Childhood,” “. . . . these words /are only/ things/ but . . . all things are shining/ words busy/silently/saying themselves.” At times, as in “P.S,” Wright speaks directly, almost confessionally, about the desperate nature of his search for the necessary words to express his experience: “I’m writing to You/ all the time, I am writing/ with both hands/ day and night.”

Wright’s poems are truly unique in the way they can carry so much metaphysical weight in such little space, and in the way they marry the exploration of deeply personal experience with universal questions. I cannot think of a poet who can use words more tellingly and more judiciously. While spending a morning with Franz Wright may, at first, seem a bit like taking a vacation in hell, if you stick it out, by afternoon you may have become familiar enough with the terrain to find a path to heaven.