C. D. Wright

(1949 – 2016)

© 2004 Marnie Crawford Samuelson

“She’s a true original, who manages to be odd, beautiful, tough as nails, and wonderfully inventive all in the same poetic line.” —Poets & Writers

“C. D. Wright is now, and has been for decades, a uniquely unpredictable poet.” —The New York Times 

“No single description adequately captures Wright’s work; she is an experimental writer, a Southern writer, and a socially committed writer, yet she continuously reinvents herself with each new volume.” —The MacArthur Fellows Program

One of America’s most compelling and idiosyncratic poets, C.D. Wright “belongs to a school of exactly one” (NY Times). Born and raised in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, she is a radically restless writer, a composer of hybrid works such as Deepstep Come Shining and distilled lyric collections such as Tremble. Every title takes her further inside her subjects and extends the means and measure of her reach. Wright is concerned with a density of language, setting up a chain reaction using the least amount of verbal material.

She is the author of a dozen collections, including ShallCross (2016), One With Others: A Little Book of Her Days, winner of the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, The Lenore Marshall Award, and finalist for the National Book Award. About this book, Dan Chiasson wrote in The New Yorker, “One with Others represents Wright’s most audacious experiment yet in loading up lyric with evidentiary fact. An affecting element of this book is the way its elegiac impulses accord with, even as they chafe against, the documentary impulses. Elegies are often accounts of searching for, and discovering, the ancient consolations, among them poetry. And so we have…a competing order of symbol and convention, which makes it possible for subjects otherwise scrupulously real to seem oddly mythic.”

Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon, 2008) won the 2009 International Griffin Prize for Poetry. Like Something Flying Backwards: New and Selected Poems was published in the UK by Bloodaxe Books followed by a Bloodaxe edition of One With Others. Another selected poems, Like a Prisoner of Soft Words, came out in translation in 2013 in Stockholm (W&W) and a translation of Tremble was released in Oslo (Oktober Press). Her collaboration with photographer Deborah Luster, One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, was awarded the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize; and a text edition, One With Others: an Investigation, was published by Copper Canyon. Steal Away was on the Griffin International shortlist. String Light won the 1992 Poetry Center Book Award.

 Wright is a recipient of a Macarthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, the Robert Creeley Award, and the Donald Justice Prize. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Wright is on the faculty at Brown University and lives outside of Providence with her husband, writer and translator Forrest Gander. In 2015, Copper Canyon Press will release a book of her prose, The Poet, The Lion, Talking Picutres, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, spring, Midnights, Fire & All.

Biographical profile and photograph courtesy blueflowerarts.com

Remembering 2005 Award Winner C. D. Wright, 1949-2016

The members of the Board of the Robert Creeley Foundation wish to add our voices to the many in the poetry world and the world at large who mourn the brave and powerful poet C. D. Wright. Born in 1949, Wright died suddenly in her sleep on Tuesday, January 12, just a week after turning 67 and publishing her 13th book, this a collection of essays. She was the 2005 winner of the Robert Creeley Award.

Bob Clawson, one of the three founders of the Robert Creeley Award (later to become the Robert Creeley Foundation), recalls “the extraordinarily emotional evening” when Wright accepted her award in May 2005, as it followed just a little more than a month after the death of Robert Creeley himself. Bob recalls,

"C.D. Wright and her husband, the poet Forrest Gander, had welcomed Robert and Penelope Creeley into the Brown University community in 2003 and became close friends. Robert died in Texas on March 30, 2005, so that when C.D. came to Acton to receive the Robert Creeley Award on May 5, she was still deeply grieving. Martín Espada, the previous year’s winner, presented the award to Wright, reciting a poem of his own in tribute to Creeley, as well as a poem by Creeley himself. Crying, then choking back tears, Wright delivered a fine remembrance followed by a lengthy reading of her own work. Even though it was a sad night, her large audience gave her a rousing applause."

The love and admiration Wright felt for Robert Creeley was conveyed that evening in her selection of poems and the generosity of the poetry she shared with the audience as well. Maria Anthony, an English teacher at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School and former president of the Robert Creeley Foundation, recalled Wright’s reading that night:

"The first poem she read was ‘What No One Could Have Told Them.’ Students reveled in the humor, and her reading of the poem opened many students' minds to the idea that poetry can be humorous and meaningful and touching and rich with craft. For the remainder of the reading, the students sat mesmerized, understanding poetry's meaningful nature and its accessibility. Her presence and her poetry were gifts to students that day, and the introduction to poetry for so many in attendance proved to compel them to grow to love the art form. Her legacy lives in those students' revelation and through their ongoing appreciation of poetry that she sparked in that encounter."

Despite her many poetry accolades and prizes, both national and international, including the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the International Griffin Prize, she highly valued her Creeley Award and remained close to the Foundation, serving on the poet selection committee for the next two years and promoting the annual reading in Providence and in the Brown University community where she taught. She is one of those rare poets whose work could be categorized as “narrative”, “experimental,” and “socially conscious” at the same time. As Bob reminds us, “She was an original” and the world is a little less full today with her loss.

For more on Wright, click here