983. “Above The River,” by James Wright

James Wright, Above the River

Who is James Wright and what is this shi-ite all about? Above the River? He is, was, this dude from Ohio, a poet, grew up in Martin’s Ferry, by a river, wrote some poems, as poets will won’t to do. He was in the army, came out with a book of traditional verse, you know rhyme, meter, that sort of Shakespearean stuff. But like many artists, he developed and shifted and changed.

Stick with me here. The rock band Live, started out as something unique, more acoustic punk rock, emo before emo was cool. Their first album Mental Jewelry was something unlike other stuff out there. It didn’t get terribly much attention then they shifted to a more traditional rock format to much sucess. Stick with me here again. Another rock band The Cult came out with a first album that was more 80’s dance alt, so good. She Sells Sanctuary, Rain. And then their second album came out, much like Live, with a more traditional rock in your face sound. James Wright went the other way, after writing traditional verse, he pitched that rule book out the window after translating South American and Spanish surrealist, and created something sounding new, fresh, an original voice… free form.

1963’s The Branch Will Not Break, by James Wright


By James Wright

The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.   

The dark wheat listens.

Be still.


There they are, the moon’s young, trying

Their wings.

Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow

Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone

Wholly, into the air.

I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe

Or move.

I listen.

The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,

And I lean toward mine.

James Wright, An Ohio Dude

Poetry, like wine, and maybe philosophy, can be seen as snobbish, not accessible to the masses, only for the learn’d. But hey, wine used to be more of the drink of the gentile variety, French wine, expensive, only to be drunk by the bourgeoisie. People be drinking that stuff all the time now. Hell, you can buy it in a box or a can from Wal Mart!!!

With poetry, I’d counter that notion. There is poetry in us all. Whether you know it or not, lyrics to songs you love, is a form of poetry, only you don’t have to go into a Barnes & Noble or go to some fancy coffee shop to a slam poetry reading, you don’t have to be in Greenwich Village or SoHo or the City Lights Bookstore in San Fran to enjoy that shit. Nope, you just plug into your spotify, roll the windows down, blast the speakers…and dudes and dudettes, you are enjoying poetry. Yes, that poet might be saying:

Honey you can do it
Do it to me all night long
Only one who turn me
Only one who turn me on
All through the night time
Right around the clock
To my surprise
Rosie never stops
She was a whole lotta woman
Whole lotta woman
Whole lotta Rosie.

The Great Poet, Bon Scott

Maybe I haven’t convinced you to go buy a Robert Frost book, Emily Dickenson, Sylvia Plath…but you really should at least hear Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Where are we going with all this? What’s the point? Non-linear communication may not be your fave but just listen if you’ve made it this far. Howl!!

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

James Wright & his demons.

I like James wright and find his words a good thing. That’s just me. You gotta find your own jams that make you happy, bring you peace, joy, and comfort. I think, in literature, I like hope…. but the more interesting thing is those who can discover hope amidst the darkness.

I’ll leave you with this one Wright poem. But first, Wright was a very influential voice in American poetry. The Beat movement with Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs was going on in San Fran at the time Wright was writing, the Beats covered Denver…the West Coast mostly, while Robert Bly and James Wright were writing their stuff, more grounded in imagery, more tied to a sense of place in stark obversations of real people, real life. The beats had their voice and were predecessors to the whole Hippie movement and reflected that spirit…Wright was something different… a bit more grounded in rural observation. Wright liked to title his poems dramatically with the first or last line of his poem. Here’s one:

In Memory of the Horse David, Who Ate One of My Poems

…and then nothing underneath, a blank page. Pretty damn funny I’d say from a man plagued with depression and alcoholism. Read on dear friends.

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