“I GAVE UP EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING TO BE A POET” –FRANZ WRIGHT

…….Franz Wright Grab

 

James and Franz Wright, poets, and miserable sons-of-bitches.

“A Blessing” by James Wright is maudlin crap, perhaps the worst poem ever published.

The lust for horsies and the ‘break into blossom’ trope is embarrassing in the extreme.

“Northern Pike” is a close second: “we prayed for the muskrats”

“I am so happy.”    Good grief.

His football poem isn’t much better; “gallup terribly” is a trite way to describe the violence of football.  One can tell he’s just a nerdy observer.

“Their women cluck like starved pullets,/Dying for love.”  Lines like these are destined for the ash heap.

Don’t get me started on the treacly, self-pitying exploitation of George Doty, the executed killer.

What to do with James Wright, who is nothing more than smarmy Whitman-haiku?

[Note: No woman poet seeking entrance to the canon would be permitted to get away with Wright’s metaphorical slop.]

“Depressed by a book of bad poetry…”

“I have wasted my life.”

Yea.

The times (1972) were right for Whitman-haiku poetry, so James Wright’s Pulitzer is no surprise.  Plus, Wright was associated with a lot of big names: Roethke, Kunitz, Tate, Berryman, Bly.

Franz faced a difficulty as a poet.  His father was a name.  Say what you will about Whitman-haiku, his father did it well.

Franz seems to have genuinely admired his father’s poetry and made no attempt, as a poet, to get out from under his father’s shadow.

Junior poet looks up to senior poet and uses the same straight-forward, plain-speaking, self-obsessed, sentimentality of approach: Look, reader, here is my transparent chest; take a look at what I am feeling.  You might think I’d be sad—and good Lord, I have reason to be—but something about the inscrutability of the universe and my inner faith makes me happy.

Recently on Harriet, Franz Wright wrote the following, which Franz never should have written and which Harriet never should have published, and which we publish here because…oh, we forget why.

[Warning: Wright’s comment on Harriet does contain abusive language]

Henry–I have no opinion about your “work”, or the “work” of others like little Kent and the others you masturbate with. My suggestion to all of you is: give up everything for the art. Everything. Can you do that? I did it 35 years ago–do you think that might have something to do with what you little whiners call “being on the inside”? I am not on the inside of shit. I gave up everything, everything, to be a poet. I lived in financial terror and homelessness, sometimes, for nearly 40 years. Can you do that? You little whining babies. Franz Wright, 12/20/2009 Blog:Harriet

Now, that’s poetry.

Granted, it’s hyperbolic to say you gave up everything to be a poet.  What does that even mean? No one wants to suffer, and to say in hindsight that you suffered for your art is arrogant, because even if you thought it were true, it can never be proven by anyone, anywhere, that the more outrageously you suffer, the better your art will be.   There’s no substance to such a “brag.”

But we love the balls of it.

21 Comments

  1. dmanister said,

    December 23, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I love a sorehead! It’s terrific that he snarked whining poets — nobody put a gun to their heads and told them to write poetry. Good for Franz!

  2. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 24, 2009 at 4:46 am

    Frankly, I was really upset by this recent post on Harriet and wondered how in the climate of fear and repression at The Poetry Foundation of America such language has survived the censor. I mean, compared to what we were saying back in August it’s treason — we were banned altogether for much, much gentler subversion!

    So wipe it out, Travis, wipe it out for God’s sake!

    Hey Franz, I forgot to mention my dramatic adolescent spiritual experiences, & my return to religious faith, & my love & gratitude to God, & the relation of all that to my writing, which I know you have also been through, seriously… but let’s leave that for another time. When we get off the Pelham subway.
    POSTED BY: HENRY GOULD ON DECEMBER 17, 2009 AT 10:23 PM
    Report this comment

    I hope all of you reported this comment, and trust the Harriet Management is doing something about it.

    After all, it took them just 14 hours to deal with W.F.Kammann in the Boardroom, yet this attack on all our American values has been permitted to stand for almost a week now. Must be a serious discussion involving the whole PFoA, possibly right up to John Barr even, and including arrangements for an actual wipe out.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    December 24, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    So, Christopher, you the banished one, believe in SOME censorship?

    I guess I agree…even the banned ones must contemplate banning…

    Your call to Travis to “wipe it out” is strange, though…there is a perfectionism in you, my friend, which chills my blood! (just kidding) but I do find your position in your comment above a little disquieting…

    It was slightly nutty for Gould and Franz to go at each other re: some nasty business from another site altogether and Harriet looks the other way…perhaps it’s the Pulitzer which gives one carte blanche….

    What do you mean by “this attack on all our American values” ???

    Please explain that one.

  4. Christopher Woodman said,

    December 24, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    It’s pathetic Pathetic Fallacy, Tom — indeed, it’s a wishful-thinking misreading, and I do apologize. I allowed myself to think I could out-think Henry Gould, oooh — it was me assuming Henry Gould was being cynical, whereas now I see he really meant what he said, and that it was I myself who was not prepared to make such a leap of faith. He wasn’t making fun of spiritual experiences in adolescence at all, and certainly in his earlier childhood he must have flown at least as far as he mocks Franz Wright for doing. How else could you explain his sensitivity and courage in challenging the Once-Born as he did? I mean, this is surely two black angels cheek to cheek on the threshing floor!

    Yes, I assumed Henry Gould was mocking American spiritual values, religious faith, and gratitude to God — all those special qualities that lie behind our best and truest poets. I know Travis Nichols takes seriously The Poetry Foundation’s obligation to protect and advance such qualities in contemporary poetry, not heard of in letters since Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Butler Yeats and Madame Blavatsky.

    On the other hand, I have great respect for Franz Wright, I really do, and always look forward to reading more of his poetry. I believe in him and trust him and the trials that have made him who he is. I just wish he, like Henry Gould, didn’t have to protest quite so much!

    And do I believe there is a point at which the censor must move in? Only if I put myself in the censor’s shoes, which I did when I wrote that comment. I was just thinking that if I were Travis Nichols and had banned Thomas Brady and Christopher Woodman for what they stood for, surely I’d have to pummel Henry Gould for not standing for anything at all!

    But then I’d never let myself get into such narrow, anxious, thankless shoes!

    Christopher

  5. thomasbrady said,

    December 24, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Ah, yes, American values: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Juliet Ward Howe, Toni Morrison and…Madame Blavatsky! Don’t forget Alistair Crowley and Charles Manson. Christopher, you are ‘one-of-a-kind, and I love you.

    Gould is good, but throws pearls before swine. How could he hope to impress Franz in such a manner? He must be out of his mind. Trying to please Franz, I imagine Gould in yellow garters, leaning delicately in and whispering seductive odes to a snapping turtle. “I, too, am like you, Mr. Turtle! I grew in the mud; I, too, have a very hard shell, but in my heart…” Gould would be Samuel Johnson to a nursery school.

  6. Franz Wright said,

    January 13, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Poor children of the Reagan 80s and the MFA machine–this commentary is pathetic beyond comprehension. Imagine Rimbaud, Blake, D. H. Lawrence and Kerouac reading this shit. What to say to you? Happy Oblivion? Happy being dead before you even die? FW

  7. thomasbrady said,

    January 13, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Look! It’s the snapping turtle!

    Uh…Scarriet is dismantling the MFA/suck-up/ blurb machine.

    Reagan v. Rimbaud???

    A facile comparison of Reagan v. Rimbaud is PRECISELY what the Poetry MFA would make in their defense. More MFA twits hide behind Rimbaud than Reagan—if we can put any stock in that comparison at all.

    This medium isn’t for you. You have prizes and nice poems in nice books. You have nothing to gain and everything to lose in coming here. Already our enemies hate you, I’m sure, for noticing us. Sorry. It’s lose/lose for you.

    I admit it; we’re using your dad and you, shamelessly. Grist for the mill. Yea, we’re not sentimental. We tell it like it is here. Just like Rimbaud and Blake and Lawrence and Kerouac…

  8. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 13, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    “The better it is, the kinder.” That’s exactly what I meant.

    Desmond Swords from Dublin writes about the English comedian, Bernard Manning, then gets to us — and by association to Franz Wright too:

    The evidence thus far suggests not [that Emerson was a racist], but I like this piece, because it says stuff that might ‘fail’ and this is what stands out about your writing, that one day you write a turkey and the next a work of genius. You are unafraid to say silly stuff with a straight face, and believe it. Not many out there are capable of this, in the world of po-biz that is, have this quality and gumption of wit which is the most obvious sign of a poetic intelligence doing what it says on the tin: being imaginative and fabricating claims about the dead which are so outrageously NMS (non main-stream), that the MS mass of main-stream casuals in this business of ours, trading language for the craic, playing the game Tom, pretending – most of ‘em, just don’t get what you guys do. That the way to be different is to juxtapose stuff whose contrasting qualities make it stand-up and be read because it may be silly, stupid and plain wrong, but never less than interesting and provoking a response. Perhaps the most challenging stunt to pull off: actually getting people to read poetry-in-prose.

    Happy new year, Emerson was a puff.

    Desmond

    https://cowpattyhammer.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/quick-find-the-racist/#comment-616

  9. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 13, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    It’s all very complicated, Franz, and although I’m not quite as old as your dad would have been had he been still living, I’m not far off.

    So listen.

    It’s all very complicated which is, of course, precisely why we need poetry — the only form of expression in which you can say anything you want to and then contradict it without any loss of face or need for apology, like Tom does. Then you can erase it, start again, rejoice and then suffer and regret it or publish the copy you kept for the record. And all of that confusion can help to make sense out of it too, providing you shut up and give it some space.

    I for one like your poetry very much, and admire you and your struggle — but I don’t get at all why you’re so angry, or why you bother with these people. Indeed, I suspect that’s really what Tom is getting at, your anger at these people — and the sense it gives that you’re much too involved with your own image. No poet who really lives for poetry would ever say he does, for example, because he’d be way beyond such a preposterous, adolescent piece of schtick, and most likely wouldn’t even be writing anymore. Yes, there’s a pose in you for sure, and as long as there is you will always be, as Tom say, grist for the mill.

    ~

    I’m no fan of Henry Gould’s partly because he’s a poseur too, and pretends he’s honest and straightforward when, if he were, he’d be silent or start writing something with some heart in it — like we do and you do.

    You’re way ahead of Henry Gould and Kent Johnson, Franz, so why do you bother with them? What’s in it for you? That’s what Tom means, I think

    So Henry’s good when he says:

    Franz Wright can speak crudely & haughtily & disdainfully… yet he was com­municating a principle (let’s call it the corruption-of-poetic value-by-superficial-&-complacent-intellectual-blather principle). & I would say that while he has a very strong intuitive poetic gift & sensibility – just as his father did – he’s certainly not wise to the ways of glib internet back & forth : or, he simply rejects those ways.

    O.k. so far, but then his own pose gets in the way– and oh my, oh my, oh my:

    Ultimately however there is something above & beyond poetry, above & beyond ourselves, to which we ought to devote our hearts & minds & souls & strength. & this is the source that brings peace & rest & delight & wisdom & courage & &…. Franz or Henry or Kent or Michael or anyone may, in their inner most counsel & deepest heart, hold some person or truth or principle in the pinnacle of honor & personal devotion, their holiest of holies…

    And that’s bullshit because if he had any feeling for it he’d never mangle it like that throwing up a little in his mouth. He’s trying NOT to talk MFA twit-talk, that’s what he’s doing, trying NOT to sound like Kent and Stephen but like somebody you’d actually like. And that’s disgraceful, and you should despise him for it — and I hope he’s really embarrassed.

    Christopher

  10. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 13, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Oh, there’s this just in from Kent Johnson, Franz.

    Again, I’ll bet a gala fund-raiser reading in NYC –big-name poets reading with Haitian diaspora poets, the event co-sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Project, Academy of American Poets, etc., with some music and a star MC– would raise a good deal of money and provide a good deal, too, of what you refer to above, Don:
    Emotional support.

    Given the magnitude of the disaster, some sort of special collective gesture from the U.S. poetry community (if I may use that word) seems called for.

    POSTED BY: KENT JOHNSON ON JANUARY 13, 2010 AT 5:31 PM

    No, Kent, you may NOT use that word, and sanctimony comes strange out of mouths like yours, and Don Share’s too, and Ruth B. Lilly must be weeping.

    It’s this that is so rotten about all the big, comfortable foundations supporting poetry, that they talk platitudes with mealy mouths about the butter on their members’ bread — which has nothing whatever to do with poetry, the community, the U.S, or any people ever met at such a reading, or ever read, or even heard of!

    Christopher

    P.S. And now some Harriet poster’s talking about tapping Ruth B. Lilly’s millions for other causes, yet no one’s talking about what The Chicago Tribune’s talking about — any more than any regular has ever talked about what happened at Blog:Harriet on September 1st.

    Hey, anybody there know what I’m talking about?

    The one attempt in the past 5 months to draw attention to another point of view on Harriet got wiped straight out, and now the kings of the mountain want to raise money for Haiti???

  11. thomasbrady said,

    January 13, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Christopher,

    You wrote, “So listen” and “I for one like your poetry very much, and admire you and your struggle — but I don’t get at all why you’re so angry”

    Mr. Wright did not come here to receive a lecture or be flattered. He came here to pull down his pants and dump on us.

    Mr. Wright is invested in himself. He parades his suffering around and you know what—to hell with his suffering. I feel it’s in very poor taste. Plenty of people have suffered more. That’s why he’s “angry.” He’s “angry” because he’s an infant. He’s been crapped on by his dad, or someone, and that’s too bad, but it’s not our problem, you know?

    And whether you like his poetry or not is completely beside the point. Just because you’re a good poet doesn’t mean you can be a douchebag. That goes for Rimbaud and DH Lawrence and Kerouac and everyone else, too.

    And there’s a big spectrum of what’s “good” poetry.

    And the better it is, the kinder.

    Thomas

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      January 21, 2010 at 2:57 am

      You have to be careful, Tom, because it’s so easy to miss that little pink slippery thing in the bath water you’re chucking out the back door.

      When anybody speaks directly they’re always vulnerable, which is one of the main reasons so many sensitive people end up as cynics — unless they’re stupid, of course, or gluttons for punishment, or naive…

      Like the American academic insistence that a poem must never be “didactic,” which is really an expression of the fear that you actually do have to have something say when you say poetry, that just saying it alone is rarely enough. American academics teach that poetry is about poetry because they own the poetry mill and want to be sure that any attempt to make their product relevant will not detract from their monopoly on where it’s made, what it consists of, and of course the legal description.

      Show me the great sonnet that hasn’t got something to say, which is the whole point of the dynamic of the sonnet, isn’t it? Isn’t that the sonnet’s intention, and logic? Or show me the poem of Yeats or Millay, Auden or Heaney that doesn’t take a stand and proclaim it?

      To dismiss what I tried to say to Franz Wright as “lecturing” is as unfair as saying Franz Wright’s sole purpose in coming here was to dump on us. I didn’t take it that way at all — the “dumping” type says platitudes like Kent Johnson on Harriet, or says folk-nostrums in antique cotton-wool like Harriet’s resident keeper with the bee in his bonnet, or leaves poems that nobody’s allowed to discuss. That’s dumping because it’s just leaving behind one’s own personal odor, like the dog marks the spot.

      And is it “flattering” to say I like someone’s poetry or have respect for someone’s plight? Well, I do with Franz Wright, both of the above, and what’s wrong with that? Indeed, the fact that I do, and many others do as well, makes his anger all the more ungrateful — and, of course, hate to say it, neurotic. But then, those artists who are back from the dead have a special role to play in society, and it’s a role that’s not comfortable — for anyone.

      The child who fell down the well didn’t like it, nor had any kind words for those bigger people who didn’t need a cover!

      ~

      “The better it is, the kinder,” you say, Tom. And that’s what I say too — and indeed what every word on Scarriet, however scurrilous, is proclaiming.

      Like the good Dean in Dublin, humanity’s fiercest critic, how he dumped on us all to be kind!

      Christopher

  12. Christopher Woodman said,

    January 13, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    And hey, everybody, did you notice where all this is taking place? Any news of it on Harriet?

    Any news on Harriet at all?

    Or anything?

  13. thomasbrady said,

    January 14, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    “tapping Ruth B. Lilly’s millions for other causes…”

    I agree! Give all that money to Haiti.

    What’s the Poetry Foundation doing with all that money?

    Oh…yea, promoting poetry…right! I almost forgot! Like the blog, Harriet….that’s really helping poetry… so, never mind, don’t give the money to Haiti…Keep giving it to Travis Nichols…

    That’s why Don Share posts about Haiti…he’s feeling guilty…Blog Harriet might as well put up the appearance that it cares about something…sort of reminds me when Jorie Graham tried to give food to a homeless person…

  14. January 22, 2010 at 8:21 am

    […] small poem that dares to say what you probably meant when you came here, Franz Wright — for almost certainly such anger is the result of a divine touch in you that […]

  15. ergou2 said,

    March 20, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    I’ve never quite been able to figure out why poets feel the need to be so mean-spirited to other poets. What does this accomplish? Does it make you feel good?

  16. thomasbrady said,

    March 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    ergou2,

    I’m not sure I can answer you. Why are people sometimes mean-spirited? I don’t know. Do you refer to Franz being mean-spirited to Henry Gould, or Harriet being mean-spirited to Graves, Woodman, Swords, Cordle, or some other incident involving mean-spiritedness? I do think it probably does bring a temporary rush of ‘feel good’ when some kind of self-righteous act of justice is enacted, even though that act may seem mean-spirited to others.

    Don’t you think this is one of the greatest virtues of being human, that abstract issues of justice can make us ‘feel good?’ So obviously we don’t want to inhibit ‘feeling good’ or inhibit seeking redress in terms of justice and higher good, correct?

    The devil is in the details, though. You, obviously, wouldn’t have made your comment if you were not under the spell of some abstract sense of justice: thus your plea.

    However, your plea is not specific. You may ‘feel good,’ you may be making your friends ‘feel good’ privately (for I assume they know the true target or targets of your remarks) but I, and I assume many others, have no idea specifically what you’re talking about.

    If you want to elaborate, that’s fine.

    If you’re just ‘feeling good,’ that’s fine, too!

    Thomas

  17. ergou2 said,

    March 20, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Is this the same Tom Brady whose poetry appears in Clockwise Cat? Whose poem Portrait of a Nude (Manet’s The Picnic in the Grass)

    He lay naked on the rock
    stretched vulnerable
    He said, “Fill me up”.

    Her hand flicked
    at the tall flowers
    her eyes upon the green valley,
    “its too cold,” she said and shivered.

    …the paint begins to run and smear
    nothing was any longer clear.
    the sun was weak…

    Is this the same Thomas Brady?

  18. thomasbrady said,

    March 20, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    No, that’s not me. Thanks for asking.

  19. thomasbrady said,

    April 14, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Dorothy Parker was like Millay…her poems actually sold…