Dazzling meditations—Review: Sestets by Charles Wright


SestetsIn his most recent collection of poems, Sestets, Charles Wright manages to capture more in six lines than most poets say in volumes.

The volume’s sixty-six poems, six lines each, read like dazzling meditations (believe me, if any poet is capable of such an oxymoron, it’s Wright). The six-line format gives each poem a haiku-like feel, although Wright doesn’t conform to the haiku meter. That sort of constraint would take away from Wright’s rustic charm—which comes across like a contemplative gentleman farmer sitting on the wide, wooden porch of his mountaintop home, looking out across uncut fields of hay toward the sunset at the far side of a valley. He takes a pipe from his mouth, and in a quiet, even voice, delivers a poem.

“There’s no way to describe how the light splays after the storm, under the clouds/Still piled like Armageddon/Back to the west, the northwest, intent on incursion,” he says in “Outscape.”

As ever, Wright’s poems find their power—subtle and sometimes sensuous—in description. Take, for instance, “Return of the Prodigal”: “Now comes summer, water clear, clouds heavy with weeping,/Tall grasses are silver-veined./Little puddles of sunlight collect in low places deep in the woods.”

From his poet’s porch, Wright describes “[t]he blank page of the sundown sky,” a half-moon “thin as a contact lens,” “the sundown light on that dog-haired lodgepole pine,” and a great blue heron with “huge head and cyclotron eyes focusing on the deep, slow currents of evening.”

Sestets swirls with its own deep, slow currents. He ruminates about death and about getting older. He writes about discontent and remorse—but he never sinks into despair or grief. Instead, he lets the melancholy sit lightly, like dew. “[The full moon is] not here yet, but give it an hour or so, then we,/bewildered, who want our poems to be clouds upholding the sour light of heaven,/Will pass our gray hair through our fingers and sigh just a little bit.”

Wright’s greatest strength as a poet has always been his ability to connect the things he sees in the natural world with his fears, doubts, hopes, and loves. Previous collections have also worked in allusions and references to classical and Eastern philosophy, which can sometimes make a reader feel disconnected from Wright’s poems. Sestets is largely devoid of such connections.

Instead, it couples the immediacy of observation with the resonating questions that come from deep reflection. The results are quiet and relaxing—and surprisingly comforting.

2 replies »

  1. I’ve been saying that Wright is our greatest living poet for over 20 years now. I don’t have this book yet (I will soon), but it sounds like his power just continues to grow.

    In my office at work I have the pictures of four poets above my desk: Yeats, Eliot, Thomas and Wright. They all have something important in common. They have each influenced my own writing mightily, and in all cases my work comes up woefully short of their standard. I guess all artists need a few heroes like that.

    Great review.