THE SOUTHERN CROSS by Charles Wright


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The lessons that Wright has learned from a master like Montale (whom he has translated) are valuable ones: indirection, landscape brought up from the background until it becomes the subject of the poem itself, the knowledge of forgetting. But there are also liabilities to such strong lessons. Montalean imagery--butterflies, heat, pepper trees, the southern wind, lightsome and scoured air--also imposes on Wright a not-quite-creditable voice of hollowness, a vision that is darkly heavy with portent: ""The stillness is awful, as though from the inside of a root. . . ."" And such sepulchral tendencies lead you to expect and desire a certain ballast to the ideas which the poems frame--when, in fact, Wright's apothegms are more buoyant than profound: ""This world is a little place,/ Just red in the sky before the sun rises./ Hold hands, hold hands/ That when the birds start, none of us is missing./ Hold hands, hold hands."" Still, this essential light-weightedness should not keep us from enjoying Wright when he's doing what he does best: making arenas of stillness, stitching them with breezes that hint, in a feathery way, at change and self-recognition. In ""Homage to Paul Cezanne,"" the dead act like colors--a striking metaphor; and in ""Mount Caribou At Night,"" the stars (""electric paste/ Across the sky"") and the mountain at night and the graves of old Montana settlers all conspire ""to walk out/ Into the same night and the meadow grass, in step and in time."" These and at least three other poems here are excellent--wonderfully deft work from a relatively young poet who, elsewhere in this collection, spreads himself too thin and takes on a prematurely valedictory tone.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Random House