God's Silence

God's Silence

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by Franz Wright

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In this luminous new collection of poems, Franz Wright expands on the spiritual joy he found in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Walking to Martha’s Vineyard. Wright, whom we know as a poet of exquisite miniatures, opens God’s Silence with “East Boston, 1996,” a powerful long poem that looks back at the darker moments in the


In this luminous new collection of poems, Franz Wright expands on the spiritual joy he found in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Walking to Martha’s Vineyard. Wright, whom we know as a poet of exquisite miniatures, opens God’s Silence with “East Boston, 1996,” a powerful long poem that looks back at the darker moments in the formation of his sensibility. He shares his private rules for bus riding (“No eye contact: the eyes of the terrified / terrify”), and recalls, among other experiences, his first encounter with a shotgun, as an eight-year-old boy (“In a clearing in the cornstalks . . . it was suggested / that I fire / on that muttering family of crows”). Throughout this volume, Wright continues his penetrating study of his own and our collective soul. He reaches a new level of acceptance as he intones the paradox “I have heard God’s silence like the sun,” and marvels at our presumptions:

We speak of Heaven who have not yet accomplished even this, the holiness of things precisely as they are, and never will!

Though Wright often seeks forgiveness in these poems, his black wit and self-deprecation are reliably present, and he delights in reminding us that “literature will lose, sunlight will win, don’t worry.”
But in this book, literature wins as well. God’s Silence is a deeply felt celebration of what poetry (and its silences) can do for us.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
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
Publishers Weekly
Wright's Walking to Martha's Vineyard won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize; this book offers more agonic short poems on struggles with addiction and pain, but from a perspective much closer to faith than despair. Extended pieces like "East Boston, 1996" arrive at brutal truths ("the eyes of the terrified/ terrify") and miniature lyrics such as "The Choice" ("God can do what is impossible, but / God can only do what is impossible") seem to project upward in spiritual longing. In an Icarian approach to the light, Wright weaves a doubt-tinged refrain-"I have heard God's silence like the sun"-through poem after poem; pieces such as "On the Death of a Cat" ("Dear Stealth / of innocence....") compete with more inspired passages. And as with Walking, the poet's father, mid-century poet James Wright, looms large, as absence and as towering presence. Although there are serious dips in the road here, the best poems offer hope and compassion, and embrace the contradictions they present: "Proved faithless, still I wait." (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Ecstatic poetry is among the hardest kind to write; it's one thing to see God, another thing to make the reader see God, too. In this collection, which expands on the spiritual vision of Wright's 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning Walking to Martha's Vineyard, the poet often succeeds in conveying the ineffable convincingly: "And everything that once was/ infinitely far/ and unsayable is now/ unsayable/ and right here in the room." Wright's use of free verse ranges from tightly structured to loosely confessional, at times sloppy in the book's second half. But mysticism demands a constant balancing act between epiphanies and self-indulgence. One can be grateful for the poems that work so splendidly, like "The Reader"-"The Mask was gone now, burned away/ (from inside)/ by God's gaze/ there was no/ I, there/ was no he-/ finally/ there was no text, only/ what the words stood for;/ and then/ what all things stand for." This and a few other poems should be required reading in our high schools, spiritual antidotes for our materialistic society. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Michael Kriesel, Aniwa, WI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.68(d)

Read an Excerpt

God's Silence

By Franz Wright

Random House

Franz Wright
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1400043514

Chapter One

Woods Hole Ferry

Crossing briefly this mirrory still Galilean blue water to the heaven

of the affluent, the users-up, unconsciously remote

from knowing themselves

our owners and starvers, occupying

as they always have, to no purpose,

the mansions and the beauty of the earth

for this short while


we all meet and enter at the same door.

Excerpted from God's Silence by Franz Wright Excerpted by permission.
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

Franz 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, The Beforelife (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), and Walking to Martha’s Vineyard (which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry). He has been the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Fellowship, and the PEN/Voelcker Prize, among other honors. He lives in Waltham, Massachusetts, with his wife, the translator and writer Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright.

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God's Silence 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Franz Wright is remarkable for his deep honesty and humbleness. He writes with such deep spiritual depth. My favorite poem is 'Text and Commentary'and 'Arkansas Good Friday'. The only setback was that his poem 'The Point', from the Image Review wasn't in this fine collection of poems. But other than that, I was quite pleased. It has the same intensity seen in his Pulitzer Prize collection, if not more.