The Letter Project

September 5, 2010

Special Delivery (62)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 12:45 am
Tags: , ,

Mike Judge writes to Ricky of James Wright and the deep image poem.  His excitement about learning to enter poetry is very evident in this letter:

This line makes me envision a community of people searching for someone or something that is lost. Such imagery rekindles a sense of yearning and anxiousness inside of me.

Dear Ricky,

The time has come, once again, for me to write to you further on the highly interesting James Wright. I truly hope that you have been enjoying the letters that I’ve sent to you thus far. As you know, literature is one of my greatest passions and this is such an enjoyable way to discuss it!

Today, I want to write to you about James Wright’s poetry. Before this class, I had not read very much poetry at all; and even having read the few poems that we have been able to analyze and discuss in class, I can promise you that I have come to regret my previous inexperience with this wonderful style of art. I have learned that good poetry holds much more that pretty words and artistic meter; it takes wonderful ideas and emotions and weaves them together into a great tapestry of mind-rattling depth. Throughout this course alone I have found a number of such tapestries, and the author of many of them is James Wright.

Later on in his career, James Wright began to write deep image poetry. In this style the writer tries to communicate his or her meanings or messages through images rather than abstract phrasing. When done successfully, the images evoke strong emotions that the reader may have associated to the images or even new ones that the reader hasn’t experienced before. To be honest, at first I wasn’t too fond of this approach of poetry. But, like coffee, it has grown quite a bit on me. My favorite example of this is in Wright’s poem, Hook. However, I don’t want to give too much away, as I will be writing you a separate letter on that poem specifically in the near future. So instead, I’ll explain this to you through another one of Wright’s poems, Rain.

Rain is a dark poem about misfortune. It is a wonderful example of deep image poetry because throughout the entire poem, there is only one line of that does not solely serve as an image (but even that line does if you choose to look at it in a certain perspective). Here it is:


It is the sinking of things.

Flashlights drift over dark trees,

Girls kneel,

An owl’s eyelids fall.

The sad bones of my hands descend into a valley

Of strange rocks.

I like to view each line as its own scene in a movie. Every time that I progress to the line below, I see a very new and distinctive shot filled with emotion. The first line sets the stage for the rest of the poem. Rather than saying, “It is misfortune,” Wright carefully chooses to say “It is the sinking of things.” Instead of just acknowledging a fall through normal words, Wright empowers readers to be able picture someone or something sinking that they have a personal connection with. This personalization is what makes deep image poetry so moving: it brings past experiences to the forefront of one’s mind.

From there, Wright continues with his image driven lines. He first writes, “Flashlights drift over dark trees.” This line makes me envision a community of people searching for someone or something that is lost. Such imagery rekindles a sense of yearning and anxiousness inside of me. It makes me think about moments that I’ve lost things and had to search through figuratively dark places to find them. What a powerful tool, this deep image poetry is! The rest of the poem follows suit, I just wanted to include an example so that you can understand how profound it really is. Perhaps you can try reading the poem again and reflecting on the emotions and associations that you may have with each of the lines. I think you would find it valuable and potentially enlightening.

Wright wrote on many other topics, as well. One of his more re-occurring topics is that of hardship. Like in the poem Rain, James Wright regularly writes to explain various forms of troubles that people face. Wright is certainly qualified to do this, as he had a rough upbringing and was an alcoholic for a decent amount of his life. One of my favorite illustrations of hardship that Wright presents to his readers is in his poem, The First Days.

This poem discusses an individual who stumbles across a “…huge golden bee ploughing / His burly right shoulder into the belly / Of a sleek yellow pear / Low on a bough.” The individual watches as the bee writhes his way through the pear trying to find the “sudden black honey” that resides within the center of the fruit. With all of the force combined with the added weight of the bee, the pear crashes to ground. The bee almost dies because of his pursuit, but the observing individual cuts the pear open and lets the bee go free because it was almost dead and trapped inside of the fruit. After freeing the bee, the individual reflects, “Maybe I should have left him alone there, / Drowning in his own delight.” What a powerful line! How often do we pursue our very own forms of “black honey?” In other words, how often do we pursue things that ultimately bring us down, sometimes to the brink of destruction? All of the time. It is a curse; and worse, it is a curse that we bring upon ourselves.

I have come to realize that the poems that I have chosen to illustrate Wright are not of the most cheerful variety. However, their applicability to any person’s lives, as well as the fact that they are personally impacting drew me to them. I hope that you won’t assume that all of his poems are of his nature, for they certainly are not.

Sadly, I must cut my letter off here for now. I very much value you as a friend, and would encourage you to check out some more of his work. Should you desire to, I do have a small collection of some of his poetry that I could easily lend to you.

Take care, brother,



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