Chickamauga

Chickamauga

by Charles Wright
     
 

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This volume, Wright's eleventh book of poetry, is a vivid, contemplative, far-reaching, yet wholly plain-spoken collection of moments appearing as lenses through which to see the world beyond our moments. Chickamauga is also a virtuoso exploration of the power of concision in lyric poetry--a testament to the flexible music of the long line Wright has made

Overview

This volume, Wright's eleventh book of poetry, is a vivid, contemplative, far-reaching, yet wholly plain-spoken collection of moments appearing as lenses through which to see the world beyond our moments. Chickamauga is also a virtuoso exploration of the power of concision in lyric poetry--a testament to the flexible music of the long line Wright has made his own. As a reviewer in Library Journal noted: "Wright is one of those rare and gifted poets who can turn thought into music. Following his self-prescribed regimen of purgatio, illuminato, and contemplatio, Wright spins one lovely lyric after another on such elemental subjects as sky, trees, birds, months, and seasons. But the real subject is the thinking process itself and the mysterious alchemy of language: 'The world is a language we never quite understand.'"

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“In his generation, the generation of Ashbery, Rich, Ammons, Ginsberg, Plath, and Merrill, Wright is perhaps closest to Plath in his intensity of the image, closest to Ammons in his sense of the sidereal. But he sounds like nobody else, and he has remained faithful to insights and intuitions--of darkness as of light--less than common in contemporary America.” —Helen Vendler, The New Republic

Chickamauga marks a new turning point in Wright's career . . . Like [Wallace] Stevens's The Rock, Chickamauga is the result of a self-consciously imposed limitation . . . Most of Wright's new poems fit neatly on one page, and, if anything, each poem seems more gorgeous than the one preceding it . . . Wright's turn toward smaller poems is the result of a metaphysical as well as formal dilemma . . . [It] is a beautiful book, bearably human yet in touch with the sublime; I would not want to be deprived of any of its poems. But I can't help wondering what Charles Wright--who must be thought of as one of our living masters--could possibly do next.” —James Longenbach, The Yale Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In subject matter, many poems in the six varied-length sections here are akin to haiku: meditations that connect breaths of spirituality to pinpoints in time and space-details of a landscape, season, time of day. But Wright (who won the 1983 National Book Award for poetry) gives his observations a more intimate, personal turn with his conversational voice, which carries subtle King James Bible cadences in long lines swept in broken segments across the page. His concern here is ``the two-hearted sorrow of middle-age''; as his attention shifts from the works of T.S. Eliot and Lao Tzu, to a dwindling orchard, to memories of Italy, there is an underlying sense that some search is over, that objects or events once inspiring now simply add to ``the shadow that everything casts.'' Punctuating such sombre ruminations are images of sudden, fearsome flames: ``My life, this shirt I want to take off, which is on fire....'' The strain of these extremes often stretches the poetry to abstraction, but often, as in ``Expectantly empty, green as a pocket, the meadow waits/ For the wind to rise and fill it,'' the themes of absence and loss are measured in the precisely distilled images for which Wright is known. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Wright is one of those rare and gifted poets who can turn thought into music. Following his self-prescribed regimen of purgatio, illuminato, and contemplatio, Wright spins one lovely lyric after another on such elemental subjects as sky, trees, birds, months, and seasons. But the real subject is the thinking process itself and the mysterious alchemy of language: "The world is a language we never quite understand." But Wright's metaphors are readily grasped: an "epaulet of stars," the "hat/of daylight," the "dead script of vines," an "oil-rag American sky," or "fall's early chemotherapy." The beauty of these poems-with their echoes of Wallace Stevens and Theodore Roethke-is hard won. Under the joyful act of composition lies "the heart's arctic," and the poet listens closely to "what the darkness says." Each poem celebrates a precious aesthetic fact-"one the in a world of a." Highly recommended for all collections.-Daniel L. Guillory, Millikin Univ., Decatur, Ill.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374524814
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
04/28/1996
Pages:
96
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.26(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chickamauga


By Charles Wright

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1995 Charles Wright
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7749-8



CHAPTER 1

AFTERMATH


    Sitting Outside at the End of Autumn

    Three years ago, in the afternoons,
    I used to sit back here and try
    To answer the simple arithmetic of my life,
    But never could figure it —
    This object and that object
    Never contained the landscape
    nor all of its implications,
    This tree and that shrub
    Never completely satisfied the sum or quotient
    I took from or carried to,
      nor do they do so now,
    Though I'm back here again, looking to calculate,
    Looking to see what adds up.

    Everything comes from something,
    only something comes from nothing,
    Lao Tzu says, more or less.
    Eminently sensible, I say,
    Rubbing this tiny snail shell between my thumb and two fingers.
    Delicate as an earring,
    it carries its emptiness like a child
    It would be rid of.
    I rub it clockwise and counterclockwise, hoping for anything
    Resplendent in its vocabulary or disguise —
    But one and one make nothing, he adds,
    endless and everywhere,
    The shadow that everything casts.


    Lines After Rereading T. S. Eliot

    The orchard is fading out.
    All nine of the fruit trees
    Diminish and dull back in the late Sunday sunlight.

    The dead script of vines
    scrawls unintelligibly
    Over the arbor vitae.

    A cricket, a little black luck charm,
    stops at my feet
    On his singular pathway

    Across the wasteland between the brown
    Apricot leaf and the hedge.
    Hello, good luck, goodbye.

    * * *

    Whatever happened to the dark sublime,
    sin of the third eye,
    Cross-gap between flesh and abstraction?

    Pain, the old standby, is what calls us,
    A life between the rocks,
    the desert's sweet syllable.

    We cannot forgive ourselves.
    When our ears sing our guiltless blood,
    we cannot forgive ourselves.

    We know hell in our bones —
    outside time, outside comprehension,
    We know it in our bones.

    * * *

    Ambition is such a small thing.
    Like a late pear in the autumn sun,
    Hard, green, indigestible,

    It hangs in front of our eyes.
    It hangs there and grows dark
    As the light of Indian summer seeps away at our backs.

    Illustrious and unknown
    is what we should wish for ourselves,
    Fading the way this landscape fades

    Into its anonymity
    and various selves,
    So indefinable, so dumb.


    Reading Lao Tzu Again in the New Year

    Snub end of a dismal year,
    deep in the dwarf orchard,
    The sky with its undercoat of blackwash and point stars,
    I stand in the dark and answer to
    My life, this shirt I want to take off,
    which is on fire ...

    Old year, new year, old song, new song,
    nothing will change hands
    Each time we change heart, each time
    Like a hard cloud that has drifted all day through the sky
    Toward the night's shrugged shoulder
    with its epaulet of stars.

    * * *

    Prosodies rise and fall.
    Structures rise in the mind and fall.
    Failure reseeds the old ground.
    Does the grass, with its inches in two worlds, love the dirt?
    Does the snowflake the raindrop?

    I've heard that those who know will never tell us,
    and heard
    That those who tell us will never know.
    Words are wrong.

    Structures are wrong.
    Even the questions are compromise.
    Desire discriminates and language discriminates:
    They form no part of the essence of all things:
    each word

    Is a failure, each object
    We name and place
    leads us another step away from the light.

    Loss is its own gain.
    Its secret is emptiness.
    Our images lie in the flat pools of their dark selves
    Like bodies of water the tide moves.
    They move as the tide moves.
    Its secret is emptiness.

    * * *

    Four days into January,
    the grass grows tiny, tiny
    Under the peach trees.
    Wind from the Blue Ridge tumbles the hat
    Of daylight farther and farther
    into the eastern counties.

    Sunlight spray on the ash limbs.
    Two birds
    Whistle at something unseen, one black note and one interval.
    We're placed between now and not-now,
    held by affection,
    Large rock balanced upon a small rock.


    Under the Nine Trees in January

    Last night's stars and last night's wind
    Are west of the mountains now, and east of the river.
    Here, under the branches of the nine trees,
    how small the world seems.

    Should we lament, in winter, our shadow's solitude,
    Our names spelled out like snowflakes?
    Where is it written, the season's decrease diminishes me?

    Should we long for stillness,
    a hush for the trivial body
    Washed in the colors of paradise,
    Dirt-colored water-colored match-flame-and-wind-colored?

    As one who has never understood the void,
    should I
    Give counsel to the darkness, honor the condor's wing?
    Should we keep on bowing to
    an inch of this and an inch of that?

    The world is a handkerchief.
    Today I spread it across my knees.
    Tomorrow they'll fold it into my breast pocket,
    white on my dark suit.


    After Reading Wang Wei, I Go Outside to the Full Moon

    Back here, old snow like lace cakes,
    Candescent and brittle now and then through the tall grass.
    Remorse, remorse, the dark drones.

    The body's the affliction,
    No resting place in the black pews of the winter trees,
    No resting place in the clouds.

    Mercy upon us, old man,
    You in the China dust, I this side of my past life,
    Salt in the light of heaven.

    Isolate landscape. World's grip.
    The absolute, as small as a poker chip, moves off,
    Bright moon shining between pines.


    Easter 1989

    March is the month of slow fire,
    new grasses stung with rain,
    Cold-shouldered, white-lipped.
    Druidic crocus circles appear
    Overnight, morose in their purple habits,
    wet cowls
    Glistening in the cut sun.

    * * *

    Instinct will end us.
    The force that measles the peach tree
    will divest and undo us.
    The power that kicks on
    the cells in the lilac bush
    Will tumble us down and down.
    Under the quince tree, purple cross points, and that's all right

    For the time being,
    the willow across the back fence
    Menacing in its green caul.
    When the full moon comes
    gunning under the cloud's cassock
    Later tonight, the stations
    Will start to break forth like stars, their numbers flashing and then some.

    Belief is a paltry thing
    and will betray us, soul's load scotched
    Against the invisible:
    We are what we've always thought we were —
    Peeling the membrane back,
    amazed, like the jonquil's yellow head
    Butting the nothingness —
    in the wrong place, in the wrong body.

    The definer of all things
    cannot be spoken of.
    It is not knowledge or truth.
    We get no closer than next-to-it.
    Beyond wisdom, beyond denial,
    it asks us for nothing,
    According to Pseudo-Dionysus, which sounds good to me.

    * * *

    Nubbly with enzymes,
    The hardwoods gurgle and boil in their leathery sheaths.
    Flame flicks the peony's fuse.
    Out of the caves of their locked beings,
    fluorescent shapes
    Roll the darkness aside as they rise to enter the real world.


    Reading Rorty and Paul Celan One Morning in Early June

    In the skylight it's Sunday,
    A little aura between the slats of the Venetian blinds.
    Outside the front window,
    a mockingbird balances
    Gingerly on a spruce branch.
    At the Munch house across the street,
    Rebecca reads through the paper, then stares at her knees
    On the front porch.
    Church bell. Weed-eater's cough and spin.

    From here, the color of mountains both is and is not,
    Beginning of June,
    Haze like a nesting bird in the trees,
    The Blue Ridge partial,
    then not partial,
    Between the staff lines of the telephone wires and pine tips
    That sizzle like E.T.'s finger.
    Mid-nineties, and summer officially still three weeks away.

    * * *

    If truth is made and not found,
    what an amazing world
    We live in, more secret than ever
    And beautiful of access.
    Goodbye, old exits, goodbye, old entrances, the way
    Out is the way in at last,
    Two-hearted sorrow of middle age,
    substanceless blue,
    Benevolent anarchy to tan and grow old with.

    If sentences constitute
    everything we believe,
    Vocabularies retool
    Our inability to measure and get it right,
    And languages don't exist.
    That's one theory. Here's another:
    Something weighs on our shoulders
    And settles itself like black light
    invisibly in our hair ...

    * * *

    Pool table. Zebra rug.
    Three chairs in a half circle.
    Buck horns and Ca' Paruta.
    Gouache of the Clinchfield station in Kingsport, Tennessee.
    High tide on the Grand Canal,
    San Zeno in late spring
    Taken by "Ponti" back in the nineteenth century.
    I see the unknown photographer
    under his dark cloth. Magnesium flash.
    Silence. I hear what he has to say.

    June 3rd, heat like Scotch tape on the skin,
    Mountains the color of nothing again,
    then something through mist.
    In Tuscany, on the Sette Ponti, Gròpina dead-ends
    Above the plain and the Arno's marauding cities,
    Columns eaten by darkness,
    Cathedral unsentenced and plugged in
    To what's-not-there,
    windows of alabaster, windows of flame.


    After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard

    East of me, west of me, full summer.
    How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard.
    Birds fly back and forth across the lawn
    looking for home
    As night drifts up like a little boat.

    Day after day, I become of less use to myself.
    Like this mockingbird,
    I flit from one thing to the next.
    What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
    Tomorrow is dark.
    Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.

    The sky dogs are whimpering.
    Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening
    up from the damp grass.
    Into the world's tumult, into the chaos of every day,
    Go quietly, quietly.


    Thinking of David Summers at the Beginning of Winter

    December, five days till Christmas,
    mercury red-lined
    In the low twenties, glass throat
    Holding the afternoon half-hindered
    And out of luck.
    Goodbye to my last poem, "Autumn Thoughts."

    Two electric wall heaters
    thermostat on and off,
    Ice one-hearted and firm in the mouth of the downspout
    Outside, snow stiff as a wedding dress
    Carelessly left unkempt
    all week in another room.

    Everything we desire is somewhere else,
    day too short,
    Night too short, light snuffed and then relit,
    Road salted and sanded down,
    Sky rolling the white of its eye back
    into its head.

    Reinvention is what we're after,
    Pliny's outline,
    Living in history without living in the past
    Is what the task is,
    Quartering our desire,
    making what isn't as if it were.


    Cicada

    All morning I've walked about,
    opening books and closing books,
    Sitting in this chair and that chair.
    Steady drip on the skylight,
    steady hum of regret.
    Who listens to anyone?
    Across the room, bookcases,
    across the street, summer trees.

    Hear what the book says:
    This earthly light
    Is a seasoning, tempting and sweet and dangerous.
    Resist the allurements of the eye.
    Feet still caught in the toils of this world's beauty,
    resist
    The gratifications of the eye.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Chickamauga by Charles Wright. Copyright © 1995 Charles Wright. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Charles Wright is the United States Poet Laureate. His poetry collections include Country Music, Black Zodiac, Chickaqmauga, Bye-and-Bye: Selected Later Poems, Sestets, and Caribou. He is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Book Award, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and the 2013 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry. Born in Pickwick Dam, Tennesee in 1935, he currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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