The Letter Project

December 27, 2009

Special Delivery (50)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 1:00 am
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Marian Veverka writes to Professor Emeritus Larry Smith about James Wright and the creative process.   Marian is a retired library worker who has a BFA from BGSU.  She has spent a lot of time writing poetry & reading books.  She has lived most of her life on the shores of Lake Erie. –TW

On his blog, Larry Smith says of himself :   

I am the author of 8 books of poetry, 3 books of fiction, 2 literary biographies on Kenneth Patchen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and co-produced three documentaries on Patchen, James Wright, and d.a.levy. I am professor emeritus of Humanities at BGSU Firelands College. As founder-director of Bottom Dog Press/ Bird Dog Publishing we have published 105 books. I come from a working-class family in the industrial Ohio Valley. I believe in growth and change. 

Marblehead OH 

 17 November 2009

 Hi Larry

Theresa Williams’s letter project interested me because in the days before e-mail and internets, I enjoyed writing and receiving letters.  As the subject matter of the letterproject concerned writers and writing,  you seemed a likely correspondent as we have had many discussions on the subject at the Firelands Writing Center.  The next problem, the subject of my correspondence was solved when I visited our local bookstore/library and saw a copy of James Wrights’ poems Above the River.  We shared an interest in James Wright – I was introduced to his work at various Ohio Poetry Day celebrations and I knew you were from the same “neck of the woods” and also wrote of the once thriving economy along the Ohio River valley, now a haunted echo of its former prosperity.

When I studied poetry in my first attempt at college in the early 1950’s, the course we studied was called “Modern Poetry”, which was the poetry written in the beginning years of the 20th century.  Robert Frost and Edna St.Vincent Millay are the poets I remember as among the best,  I took out my books I had saved from those years and James Wright was not included.  However, the poems he wrote in his early years were those of meter and rhyme  They also echoed the rural sensibility of Frost and many, now all but forgotten others.  As I read those early poems, another theme emerged – Wright’s desire to leave the industrial Ohio valley.  St. Judas  & The Green Wall also contain hints from the surfacing “beat” poets,

What I consider the most interesting part of Wright’s career was the 5 year period he spent traveling and translating and writing very little that survives.  When he began publishing poetry again, it was not the conventional poetry of his earlier years.  Donald Hall, the poet who wrote the introduction to  Above the River ,

In July 1958, he wrote me a letter in which he announced he was through writing poems.’  Which may have been true at the time, but he began translating other poets, especially German & Spanish and continued to read, read, read, the modern stylists and when he  resumed his writing, the old rhyme and meter had been taken over my the styles of the post-world war 11 poets, influenced by the beats/  His subject matter continued to center around that region of south-east Ohio, once busy with industry, now a backwater, rusting & overgrown with weeds – the opposite of the boosterism so prevelant in the early 1950’s .

What I find interesting about James Wright is his ability to change his style of poetry writing.  During my years as a “writer” I had several periods where I did no writing at all.  When I resumed writing (always slowly)–the results were better poems and prose than I had written before the fallow period.  As a writer, do you think it is helpful to stop writing for a while–perhaps spend the time as Wright did, traveling & translating and studying the work of others.  Could there be something going on in our subconscious brain that still carries on the craft of putting words together to make some kind of sense and then presenting our version of that sense to the world?  Do you know of other poets and writers who have had the same experience ?

I have read some of your newer poems and there is a difference there,  a little deeper and perhaps a little darker than your earlier work.   But is this a normal process, is this the body and all its many parts in  a “wind-down” mode?.  I an curious about creativity.  There are many times I have written things & reading them later, had trouble believing that I actually wrote that. 

James Wright’s fallow period produced better poetry.  I hope mine and others can do the same.

Best wishes

Marian Veverka



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