Poetry Review: “Depressed by a Bad Book of Poetry” by James Wright

In honor of National Poetry Month, MontanaWriter is featuring poems about poets, poetry, and writing poetry. 

Here in the North Country, the juncoes have moved north and red-winged blackbirds are singing again in the cattails. A warmer than normal spring has become suddenly cool. Frost warnings have apple farmers scrambling and city folk turning their furnaces back on again. But since the sun is out and the days are growing longer, it is hard to complain.

James Wright spent a great deal of time in the North Country. He knew the want of hard-winters as well as the bountiful beauty of easy springs: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. (Wright, like so many poets – all poets – suffered from depression.) Many of his best poems are about the beauty of nature… at least, many that I like best.

Wright was an innovator in every possible way. One of the ways he pushed at the edges of things was in the way he titled his poems. The official title of today’s poems is “Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry, I Walk Toward an Unused Pasture and Invite the Insects to Join Me.” Even if the poem were not so good, I would love it for the title alone

“Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry…” comes from Wright’s 1963 volume of poetry entitled, The Branch Will Not Break. It seems like the perfect poem for a spring day.

Enjoy!

Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry,
I Walk Toward an Unused Pasture
and Invite the Insects to Join Me

Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone.
I climb a slight rise of grass.
I do not want to disturb the ants
Who are walking single file up the fence post,
Carrying small white petals,
Casting shadows so frail that I can see through them.
I close my eyes for a moment and listen.
The old grasshoppers
Are tired, they leap heavily now,
Their thighs are burdened.
I want to hear them, they have clear sounds to make.
Then lovely, far off, a dark cricket begins
In the maple trees.

 

Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

 I do not want to disturb the ants
Who are walking single file up the fence post,
Carrying small white petals,
Casting shadows so frail that I can see through them.

 

Wright has written some of the most luminous lines I know. This is one of those lines. So is the final line of the poem. These luminous lines… unlike the lines in the book of bad poetry that occasioned this poem… are like “small white petals” casting “shadows so frail” that we “can see through them.”  They are what poetry is supposed to be.

 

 

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