Michael Rozon and I attempted to speak to the
experience and mood of each poem with music.
With Michael taking the lead as composer and
arranger, I added what I could to help create a
musical environment that would hold the
varying emotional dynamics of each line of poetry:
from humor to the deep duende and then back in
an instant, Franz carves into the bone of life with
his writing and we tried to fill in the location with
music. Various extraordinary musicians lent us
their skills. It is was a phenomenal experience to
watch these artists fall in love with Franz’s writing
on the spot.
And this, in a nutshell, was Michael’s and my desire:
to expose a community that was looking for poetry
and didn’t know how to find it. I hope beyond hope
that we can help more and more people who feel like
poetry is outside of their grasp or their lives come to
find the exact genius of the work of Franz Wright.
Another Working Dawn
Michael is playing the piano and the opening chord
is both so triumphant and final—it is a powerful way
to pull you into a track. As the music expands and
spreads so does the narrator. The soaring but dulcet
arpeggios. As the poem closes the reversing electronics
continue to disorient and entice the ear. An ending
question that leads back to the beginning—a new day; the
repeating E on the piano driving on and on.
No Answer No Why
We wanted to speak to the autumnal terror of the poem.
The line about the “small dog in traffic” is an image
you never escape.
The machine noise is contributed by Eric Wood,
Michael is playing the piano—answering and leading
the poem somewhere else. The music underscores
the immense sprawl of the driving through the
poem—the exit of the music and the ruffling papers
really slaps you out of the trance.
The broke-down honkey-tonk piano is played by
We knew we wanted this poem to end the record
and knew we wanted the exceptionally talented
singer Mindy Gaspar to bring it home for us. This is my
favorite track; it has the epic American loneliness of
simple elements: words, a voice, a piano.
Readings from the Wheeling Motel
To be the progeny of a great artist is a singular burden with which most of us can’t cope. We need only look at the example of Eugene O’Neill whose life is celebrated in this issue of Drunken Boat to feel the veracity of that statement. Of his three children, two of them committed suicide and the other was disinherited for marrying Charlie Chaplin. A family like the Waughs with its literary excellence being passed down from generation to generation (from Arthur Waugh to Alec and Evelyn, from Evelyn to Auberon, from Auberon to Alexander) are the exception rather than the rule. In most cases, literary success casts a long shadow difficult to surmount. For every Kinglsey and Martin Amis or Anita and Kiran Desai, we have dozens of examples of thwarted and confused lives, where the child simply cannot or refuses to live up to the father or mother in question.
Franz Wright, then, is one of a rare breed who came through the wilderness of his difficult childhood and from out under his father’s shadow to establish himself as writer of renown. Born in Vienna in 1953 to Pulitzer Prize winning poet James Wright, the fact that he is the author of fourteen books of poetry and also the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize (making the Wrights the only parent-child combination to have ever received that distinction) is remarkable and from what we know from the poems, no easy task. Franz Wright’s searing and honest poems have detailed his battles with depression and alcoholism, loss and self-immolation, while he has become one of the best selling American poets of his generation, making a strange, warped bedfellow next to Mary Oliver and Billy Collins.
Wright has spoken eloquently about his childhood and his relationship with his father, among many other subjects, in this superb interview with Ernest Hilbert in the Contemporary Poetry Review:
“There was just such a sense of loneliness and loss—I loved my father very much and never stopped grieving the loss of him—combined with this weird miraculous sense of privilege and absolute freedom. Though that loneliness was very painful, physically painful, and along with it my lifelong sense of social ineptness, it gradually transformed into something I loved and treasured and would not have traded for anything. I experienced very powerfully a sense of some special destiny, without having the slightest idea of what form it might take—but for a long time that sensation was enough.”
Of course the form that loneliness and loss would eventually take was that of startling poems, a few new ones of which we include in this issue of Drunken Boat. Here you’ll find the poet expanding his range, writing prose poems and collaborating with musicians on the readings from Readings from the Wheeling Motel collection. In putting this special folio together, Drunken Boat corresponded with the poet and received a welter of primary source material from him, including drafts of poems, as well as some memorable exchanges. In response to some of our questions, Wright wrote this back to us:
------ Forwarded Message
From: Franz Wright
Date: Tue, 20 Jul 2010 23:31:41 -0400
Subject: Re: DB Launch, questions, twitterings
—The only thing I will say about your questions: my question is, how many poets do people think can exist at any given time, in any given generation or century? People cannot honestly believe that if they pay (or slave as freshman comp. teachers) for a diploma, it somehow makes them a “Master” of the art of poetry at the age of 24 or whatever? I will make the following observation: the greatest, or among the greatest poetry in the world was written by 20th century American poets until right about precisely the time when MFA programs became ubiquitous. I want to read poetry written by tigers and hawks, not sheep…The universities and colleges have been enriched for thirty five years by the utterly absurd notion of making the writing of poetry an ACADEMIC SUBJECT! Rimbaud and Blake and are probably still laughing…Half of the solitary wildness of poetry died the moment a talented person steps on a college campus…We have produced thousands upon thousands, tens of thousands, of competent literary artifacts, but the true poem remains as elusive and miraculous as ever…I cannot tell you the pride I take in having lived in the most precarious poverty for thirty years, never seeing a copy of one of my books on a bookshelf in a store or library until I was 48 years old. I proved to myself that I was writing poetry not to fit in with some currently fashionable form that would get me a job in a college—that I was doing it for the same reason poets of the past always did it: to change the world, to change my own perception of the world, to feel—when I was writing well, in secret—the way a young person feels when they are in love. To change the world in that way. And not to sit around waiting for inspiration, but to generate it, every day of my life if possible.
It is then, towards the generation of inspiration and in pursuit of the rare, elusive true poem, that we present you this folio of poems and artifacts from one of the great American masters writing today.
-Ravi Shankar, August 12th, 2010