JAMES WRIGHT by Jonathan  Blunk


A Life in Poetry
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An authorized biography of the Pulitzer Prize–winning American poet.

Even though they never met, in Blunk, poet and co-editor of Wright’s Selected Letters, James Wright (1927-1980) has found his Boswell. Blunk’s account of the poet’s life is often a day-by-day record of just about everything significant he did. Anne, Wright’s second wife, provided his biographer with reams of primary source material—Wright was a relentless letter writer—and Blunk conducted hundreds of interviews and compiled a detailed schedule of Wright’s readings. Thanks to a prodigious memory, he could entertain his audiences by reciting hundreds of poems as well as his own. He was born in the run-down, industrial town of Martins Ferry on the Ohio River and was always desperate to leave it, which he did with a stint in the Army. His first wife, Liberty, even married him “to get out.” But Wright never really left, and it inspired his poems, with themes of a “baffled loneliness,” poverty, and down-and-out people. Blunk meticulously explores Wright’s years of teaching, his painful bouts of depression, his recurring alcoholism, and how his poems were crafted. Wright was a maker of poems, revising them over and over, constantly constructing, tearing down, and rebuilding. Quoting generously from Wright’s poems throughout, Blunk carefully chronicles the ongoing development of his style as he moved from regular meter and rhyme to free verse, simple language, and striking imagery. His many translations of contemporary Spanish poetry helped contribute to this evolution—as did Wright’s close friend, poet and editor Robert Bly, who did “more than any other poet to secure Wright’s legacy.” Virtually every important poet of the age had links to Wright, including James Dickey, Donald Hall, W.S. Merwin, Theodore Roethke, and Galway Kinnell. He became especially close to Anne Sexton.

A much-needed, engaging, and discerning biography that should help Wright find a new generation of readers.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-374-17859-8
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2017


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