The Letter Project

September 5, 2010

Special Delivery (64)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , ,

Caitlin Griscom, from Reynoldsburg, Ohio seeks connections between herself and James Wright in the following letter to her mother.  At the same time, Caitlin begins an incredible journey through letters, a journey which helps mother and daughter to bond in unforeseen ways. 

I think my recent experiences help me relate to someone who, on the surface, I would appear to share very few similarities with.

Dear Mom,

 … I find it interesting that I was debating whether or not even to take the class because in reading Wright’s letters and biography, I’ve found that he too experienced emotional struggles throughout his life. I think my recent experiences help me relate to someone who, on the surface, I would appear to share very few similarities with.

Wright was born in 1927 in Martins Ferry, Ohio, which incidentally is only two hours East from where we live (less than the distance it takes me to drive to Bowling Green). He had an older, adopted sister named Marge, an older brother named Ted, and a younger brother named Jack. Though I could go into all the specifics of his childhood, including his schooling, hobbies, and whether he preferred his ice cubes crushed or cubed, I think it is more interesting to focus on what motivated him to pursue writing and what provided the inspiration for his poems. Of course this will demand the inclusion of major life events such as his marriages, children, and career.

Wright first encountered poetry at the age of twelve through Byron. I think this fact calls for a quick rewind into my own childhood when I discovered books just as soon as I could read. Wright’s discovery catalyzed a successful career in writing, while mine has led me to study his works. I wonder if Wright’s mother took away books from him when he talked back…

In any case, his appreciation for established poets led Wright to create his own poetry.  Between his discovery of poetry and when he began to write his own (with the intent of publishing), Wright suffered through the death of his maternal grandmother. This caused extreme distress for Wright and actually led to his first nervous breakdown. I’m not sure if I could call last semester a nervous breakdown, but nevertheless I feel as though I can empathize with Wright on some level. He persevered through his emotional struggles and returned to high school with the intention of graduating and advancing to college. Between high school and college he enlisted in the Army.  After graduating from Kenyon College he married his first wife, Liberty Kardules. With Liberty, Wright had two sons, Franz and Marshall. His children were frequent recipients of Wright’s letters. I will go into more detail later on regarding these letters, but in reading the ones to his sons it seems as though the letters allowed Wright to express himself more honestly than he would have been able to verbally. The letters were a way for Wright to maintain intimacy with his sons as they grew into adults, rather than allowing for a separation due to age and distance to take place.

Based on Wright’s own accounts, it seems as though his personal stresses put a strain on his marriage with Liberty. In fact, it seems as though Liberty too suffered emotional hardships, as he described her in one instance as having a nervous collapse that called for a series of electric shock treatments. Perhaps the tragic flaw of their marriage was the fact that both partners suffered these episodes. In any case, the marriage ended officially in 1962, ten years after it had begun. At this time, Wright’s and Kardules’ sons were 9 and 4. Wright found love again in 1966 after becoming an English professor at Hunter College. Wright married Anne Runk a year later, and the two were together until Wright’s death in 1980.

Throughout his life, Wright fought constant battles with himself; he struggled often with the notion of suicide. It is clear from Wright’s letters that he had some manifestation of depression, but his turning to drink as self-medication most probably did more harm to his health than good. I think that people who haven’t experienced depression aren’t able to understand how debilitating it can be and so they may be inclined to look down on Wright for his “weakness” in reverting to drink. Because I have depression, I feel like I can better understand the desperation which drove Wright to seek any possible relief from his pain, no matter how self-destructive the one he turned to may be. Very fortunately for himself, his family, and his work, Wright resisted the urges he had to end his life and instead channeled his feelings into his poetry and into countless letters to friends, family, and colleagues. These letters were certainly a source of catharsis for Wright. Not only did they succeed in building strong relationships with others, but they also no doubt influenced Wright’s poetry. He often wrote letters to other writers he admired, asking for their advice and suggestions.

Wright remained active with his poetry until the end of his life, when he passed away at the age of 53 from cancer of the tongue. Though this is clearly too soon for anyone to die, let alone a man who still had so much to express, it is evident from Wright’s later poetry that he died with a sense of contentedness and hopefulness that he had not previously been able to reach.

Though Wright’s poetry is without question inspirational from a writer’s standpoint, I like to think that his hopefulness and refusal to give in to the tempting option of suicide is what makes Wright an inspirational man.

See you soon,

Love,

Caitlin

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