The Beforelifeby Franz Wright
In this stunning collection, Franz Wright chronicles the journey back from a place of isolation and wordlessness. After a period when it seemed certain he would never write poetry again, he speaks with bracing clarity about the twilit world that lies between madness and sanity, addiction and recovery. Wright negotiates the precarious transition from illness to health in a state of skeptical rapture, discovering along the way the exhilaration of love--both divine and human--and finding that even the most battered consciousness can be good company.
Whether he is writing about his regret for the abortion of a child, describing the mechanics of slander ("I can just hear them on the telephone and keening all their kissy little knives"), or composing an ironic ode to himself ("To a Blossoming Nut Case"), Wright's poems are exquisitely precise. Charles Simic has characterized him as a poetic miniaturist, whose "secret ambition is to write an epic on the inside of a matchbook cover." Time and again, Wright turns on a dime in a few brief lines, exposing the dark comedy and poignancy of his heightened perception.
Here is one of the poems from the collection:
Description of Her Eyes
and my mind goes
everyone can kiss my ass now--
then it's changed,
I change my mind.
Eyes so sad, and infinitely kind.
From the Hardcover edition.
New York Times Book Review
Olga Broumas, author of
Rave: Poems, 1975-1999
"These poems break me; they're like jewels shaped by blunt, ruined fingersmiraculous gifts. At any one time only a handful of genuine poets reside on the planet. I consider Franz Wright to be one of these, and I'm grateful that we have him among us."
"Writers who are genuinely original, who beat their own path, make up a kind of visionary company, to which Franz Wright, with this new book, must clearly be admitted. These poems seem haunted by their own dark imaginings, yet at surprising moments turn all of a sudden humorous, if mordantly so. Reading them will train readers to stay alert for whatever devastating surprises may be coming up next."
"In a language waking from delirium, these astonishing poems offer-in their spare, raw, and pure lyric clarity-the prayers of madness and the light of its aftermath. Wright is a poet apart in his gifts and his courage."
"Intriguing and always accessible, with no 'irrelevant / lies,' this book will expand the audience for poetry by showing readers that, in spite of stunning obstacles, it is always 'possible to live.'"
"In these short meditations of anguish and hope, Wright achieves the clarity of 'seeing,' and a hard-won wisdom as well."Kirkus Reviews
" 'Beforelife': the word is so striking that the halting suspence of a double-crostic puzzle overhangs the book, as each poem individually withholds final definition. These poems brilliantly duplicate the willfulness and self-spite of the drinker's impulse ... they're mostly miniatures, the beginnings or endings of Hopperesque stories with a European gloss, their diction mixing mid-American colloquial speech and turns that evoke out-of-context translations."Elizabeth Macklin, The New York Times Book Review
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- Random House
- NOOK Book
- File size:
- 2 MB
Read an Excerpt
There’s this pew at the back that’s been waiting for you all your life, like your death bed.
Christ Criminal hanging above, eyes and mouth closed suggesting before you too enter the third person, light one candle for the here,
"Thanks Prayer at the Cove"
A year ago today
I was unable to speak one syntactically coherent thought let alone write it down: today in this dear and absurdly allegorical place by your grace
I am here and not in that graveyard, its skyline visible now from the November leaflessness and I am here to say it's 5 o'clock, too late to write more
(especially for the one whose eyes are starting to get dark), the single dispirited swan out on the windless brown transparent floor floating gradually backward blackward no this is what I still can see, white as a joint in a box of little cigars-
and where is the mate
Lord, it is almost winter in the year
2000 and now I look up to find five practically unseeable mallards at my feet they have crossed nearly standing on earth they're so close looking up to me for bread-
that's what my eyes of flesh see (barely)
but what I wished to say is this, listen:
a year ago today
I found myself riding the subway psychotic
(I wasn't depressed, I wanted to rip my face off)
unable to write what I thought, which was nothing though I tried though I finally stopped trying and looked up at the face of the man directly across from me, and it began to melt before my eyes and in an instant it was young again the face he must have had once when he was five and in an instant it happened again only this time it changed to the face of his elderly corpse and back in time it changed to his face at our present moment of time's flowing and then as if transparently superimposed I saw them all at once
OK I was insane but how insane can someone be I thought, I did not know you then
I didn't know you were there God
(that's what we call you, grunt grunt)
as you are at every moment everywhere of what we call the future and the past
And then I tried once more experimentally
I focused on another's face, no need to describe it there is only one underneath these scary and extremely realistic rubber masks and there is as I also know now by your grace one and only one person on earth beneath a certain depth the terror and the love are one, like hunger, same in everyone and it happened again, das Unglück geschah you might say nur mir allein it happened no matter who I looked at for maybe five minutes long enough long enough this secret trinity
I saw, the others will say I am making it up as if that mattered
I make up nothing not one word.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Franz Wright, the son of the poet James Wright, was born in Vienna in 1953 and grew up in the Northwest, the Midwest, and northern California. His most recent works include Ill Lit: Selected & New Poems and an expanded edition of translations entitled The Unknown Rilke. He has been the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts grants, a Whiting Fellowship, and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, among other honors. He lives in Waltham, Massachusetts, with his wife, Elizabeth.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Wright has written a beautifully spiritual book that takes us on a journey face to face with the afterlife. His form provides a break from reality into a conyemporary understanding of death.