Writer’s Quote Wednesday // James Wright

Hello, hello, and welcome to the middle of the week, dear readers. If you are feeling a little run down or if Friday is feeling a little too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes. My contribution is from the Australian novelist Peter Carey.

James_Wright_(poet)James Arlington Wright was born on December 13, 1927, in Martins Ferry, Ohio. His father worked for fifty years at a glass factory, and his mother left school at fourteen to work in a laundry; neither attended school beyond the eighth grade.

While in high school in 1943 Wright suffered a nervous breakdown and missed a year of school. When he graduated in 1946, a year late, he joined the Army and was stationed in Japan during the American occupation.

He then attended Kenyon College on the G.I. Bill, and studied under John Crowe Ransom. He graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1952, then married another Martins Ferry native, Liberty Kardules. The two traveled to Austria, where, on a Fulbright Fellowship, Wright studied the works of Theodor Storm and Georg Trakl at the University of Vienna.

He returned to the U.S. and earned master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Washington, studying with Theodore Roethke and Stanley Kunitz. He went on to teach at The University of Minnesota, Macalester College, and New York City’s Hunter College.

His poetry often deals with the disenfranchised, or the American outsider. Wright suffered from depression and bipolar mood disorders and also battled alcoholism his entire life. He experienced several nervous breakdowns, was hospitalized, and was subjected to electroshock therapy.

His dark moods and focus on emotional suffering were part of his life and often the focus of his poetry, although given the emotional turmoil he experienced personally, his poems can be optimistic in expressing a faith in life and human transcendence. In The Branch Will Not Break, the enduring human spirit becomes thematic. Nevertheless, the last line of his poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” famously ends, “I have wasted my life.”

Technically, Wright was an innovator, especially in the use of his titles, first lines, and last lines, which he used to great dramatic effect in defense of the lives of the disenfranchised. He is equally well known for his tender depictions of the bleak landscapes of the post-industrial American Midwest. Since his death, Wright has developed a cult following, transforming him into a seminal writer of significant influence. Hundreds of writers gathered annually for decades following his death to pay tribute at the James Wright Poetry Festival held from 1981 through 2007 in Martins Ferry.

His 1972 Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize. In addition to his other awards, Wright received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Human beings are unhappily part of nature, perhaps nature become conscious of itself. Oh, how I would love to be a chickadee! But I can’t be a chickadee, all I can be is what I am. I love the natural world and I’m conscious of the pain in it. So I’m a nature poet who writes about human beings in nature. I love Nietzsche, who called man “the sick animal.”

// James Wright, The Art of Poetry No. 19

Sometimes I read something and I know I identify with it, I know I agree with it, and I know that it is saying something I feel deeply, but I can’t articulate exactly why or how I know any of that.

I am fascinated by people. The way I see it, people are a part of nature that doesn’t know it is a part of nature. We live in a strange place between instinct and reasoning. We understand the order and laws of the universe, but we cannot control our emotions and act in unpredictable ways. We are a part of nature that has become lost but can’t ever find our way back. Instead, we have to make our own place and the search for harmony with Earth and the rest of the animal kingdom and in that search, there is a pain.

The specifics of this pain varies from person to person but there are similarities, and those similarities (and what pain is specific to me) is what I want to write about.

There is certain kind of writer we picture when we talk of a “nature writer”. We picture someone like a Henry David Thoreau type, a naturalist who pushes for simple living and natural surroundings, a change from our current course of action. I say that wherever humans are, there is nature also, and whatever we do is natural as well. We are a part of nature, and we take it with us wherever we go and express it in all that we do. To write of the human condition is to write about nature.

So I too am a “nature writer” who writes about the human’s place in the natural world and all the ways we express or forget that and how that gives us joy or causes our suffering.


Featured image via Unsplash

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads


6 Replies to “Writer’s Quote Wednesday // James Wright”

  1. Great quote. Thanks for introducing us to James Wright. I can relate to his quote. I’m an animal/nature lover too and sometimes I feel that people are just in the way––taking up too much space and messing things up.


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