Franz Wright's God's Silence does not stray far in subject or in style from his preceding collection, Walking to Martha's Vineyard, which won him the Pulitzer Prize. Containing a whopping 92 poems, the book is divided into four sections that might roughly correspond to the author's publicly acknowledged struggle with substance abuse: hitting bottom, acknowledgement, recovery, and victorious aftermath -- the alcoholic's euphoric "pink cloud." What might be supposed to divide this collection, however, is far less important than what connects: always the subject -- or subtext -- of plumbing one's absolute depths for faith in oneself, in humankind, and in a higher power, and as often as not coming up empty-handed.
Wright's lyrical voice -- direct, vulnerable, somewhat disjunctive, and at once both elegant and accessible -- is also remarkably consistent. He never fails to engage with his whimsical word choices ("smemory" "hiddenly"), startling line breaks ("Dear animal / form we are / entering the / world / of the spirit, of the way / the universe appeared when we weren't there"), and arresting juxtapositions: sun and snow, grief and joy, children and the deceased. And yes, his voice is also dark, even when he is having a rare bit of fun or reveling in the radiance of some hard-earned insight. Indeed, in "Scribbled Testament," Wright seems to admit that dark is the only way he knows how to write, perhaps because he was taught to ("darken it up a bit, will you").
One minor quibble would be the titles. While Wright occasionally delivers an intriguing one like "Alone and Talking Funny", more often he chooses abstractions like "The Poem," "The Question," or "The Reader." Perhaps he intends such titles to function more as non-frames than wrong frames -- to disappear rather than overpower or confuse the verse.
And what verse! The leitmotif "I have heard God's silence like the sun and sought to change," circles around like tumbleweed in a time-forgotten town. Other striking phrases include: "And everything that once was infinitely far and unsayable is now unsayable and right here in the room" (from "Progress") and the finale of "The Visiting": "The more you tried to hold it back, the more sweetly and irresistibly it arrived."
Wright's poems are a lot like that. In the end, they are universal enough (albeit by way of the individual) to find their way into the most hardened of hearts. And once they arrive there, they tend to stay -- and to expand. Lissa Kiernan