"Nothing's more abstract, more unreal, than what we actually see. / The job is to make it otherwise," Charles Wright announces near the beginning of Appalachia, his 13th volume of poems. This is no small task, especially for one with such ingrained pessimism about the powers of language--"our common enemy," he calls it, maintaining that "wordless is what the soul wants." Yet in the end Wright just keeps on keeping on, using language to make it all real: the cardinals and privet hedges of his suburban back yard; clouds skimming the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains; all the ceaseless motion, the "never again" of the physical world. He quotes Italian painters and Chinese poets and bluegrass traditional songs; he draws inspiration from the lyric sensibility of Dylan as well as Stevens and Pound. But Wright's voice is, as always, wholly his own: by turns melancholy, musical, fragmented, incantatory, deceptively casual.
In the wake of his critically acclaimed, multiple-award-winning collection, Black Zodiac, Wright is officially an Important American Poet, and part of the reason is his eagerness to grapple with the truly big issues: life, death, time, landscape, identity. Above all, Wright wants to know what's behind the scrim of the phenomenal world. "Give me the names for things, just give me their real names, / Not what we call them, but what / They call themselves when no one's listening--" he cries, in "The Writing Life." But landscape refuses to answer, and Wright's God is the kind of deity who "knees our necks to the ground." This is a grand, troubled, death-haunted book, the work of a poet straining to hear into the next world. --Mary Park