Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review of WHEELING MOTEL, poems by Franz Wright

Review of WHEELING MOTEL, poems by Franz Wright, Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher, New York 2009, 112 pages, price $26.95

By Barbara Bialick

(Reviewer’s note: The text quoted comes from an uncorrected publisher’s proof copy and may not necessarily match the final version of the book.)

The title poem of WHEELING MOTEL by Franz Wright of Waltham, Massachusetts, seems to represent a stopover on the road from intriguing poet dealing with mental illness, to a place where he almost reluctantly realizes his “remarkably convincing impression of one of the normal.” (“December: Revisiting My Old Isolation Room”)

The Pulitzer Prize winner for his 2003 book, WALKING TO MARTHA’S VINEYARD, does labor over the dark imagery that surrounds his experience of the death of his father, James Wright, a groundbreaking poet and fellow winner of the Pulitzer Prize, who died in 1980. But the symbol of the father is also spiritually connected to the holy father: “God’s words translated into human words/are spoken and shine/on a few upturned faces./There is nothing else like this…” (“After Absence”)

He gets to experience a “fatherly” moment of his own when he meets a child: “time blows through your hair,/the river of the dead/whose name’s forgiveness, very/small, a blue vein/in your temple. And the words/for these things are so terribly small;/and the world of those words/only slightly less mortal/than this instant of taking your hand,/of taking care…not to squeeze too hard…” (“With a Child”)

While his images often speak to death or death wish, there are also sheer poetic moments to savor such as in the poem “Will”: “And this is my alone/song. It isn’t /long…I’m going to the mansion long prepared for me:/the eye socket of a shot crow,/the sapphire/wind on water,/halls of hawk-visited shadows/pines like Chinese characters/in an ancient poem/not yet written/and of childhood/the snows.”
It’s difficult to pluck out a short quote, for his words tumble and flow like fish in a waterfall.

But in “Baudelaire”, he writes, “Evil is hated and feared at least/It is possessed, unlike mere misery of a dark glamour nobody pities.” He doesn’t want to forget his tortured soul as in “December: Revisiting My Old Isolation Room”: “I freely stand here/watching/while you burn/unheard/among the screaming, the/zombies, the pacers, the shit-fingerpainters and furious nocturnal soloquists…”

Wright concludes the collection with “Music Heard in Illness”: “Call no man happy until he has passed,/beyond/the boundary of this life…” But his fellow poets and readers should continue to keep an eye out for the work of Franz Wright. He’s definitely a voice worth considering as he carries on the journey out of horror and pain. Or, as he puts it, “What do we know but this world/…And although I could not speak, I answered.”

Barbara Bialick is the author of Time Leaves ( Ibbetson Street Press)


  1. I wish I could have gotten an advance copy of this book. I can't wait for it to come out.