NEGATIVE BLUE by Charles Wright


Selected Later Poems
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This volume contains the three collections in the last of Wright’s three trilogies (of three collections each), plus (if your eyes have not yet glazed over) some additional material referred to in the subtitle as “Selected Later Poems,” which the publisher felt it necessary to bring to our attention lest our joy thrice three be incomplete. He needn’t have bothered himself—or us. An ennead is more than enough. The poet himself, with typical grace, declares early on in the first of the third of these three tripartite trilogies that “Unlike a disease, whatever I’ve learned isn’t communicable.” Since Wright teaches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, it will be hoped he was just kidding. Later on he says, “The poem is a code with no message,” a principle he has clearly mastered. Wright balances all this negative attitude with some way-cool faux-Zen detachment, writing verse in the manner, he claims, of Li Ho and Tu Fu and Lao Tzu and Wang Wei and Li Po. But only rarely does Wright write like someone who is not a depressed cynic. He is proclaimed an Appalachian poet, yet apart from mentioning a couple of shrubs that won’t grow in the North, Wright gives us only endlessly abstract “landscapes,” a term he tosses into his poems with a frequency most writers reserve for the indefinite article. He is also depressing. Nothing is beautiful. Even a sunset is seen, with incredible triple alliteration, as “life’s loss-logo.” The verse is dry, dull, and, in true academic fashion, almost wholly detached from its subject matter (i.e., anything real).

With themes like emptiness, silence, and stasis repeated in triplicate, it grows three times harder to care.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-374-22020-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2000