- Birthday, Books, Poetry, Quotes, Reading, Writing

C. D. Wright on Art, Writing, Poetry, and More


Happy birthday, C. D. Wright! Here are some quotes from the writer:


“I believe in a hardheaded art, an unremitting, unrepentant practice of one’s own faith in the word in one’s own obstinate terms. I believe the word was made good from the start; it remains so to this second. I believe words are golden as goodness is golden. Even the humble word ‘brush’ gives off a scratch of light. There is not much poetry from which I feel barred, whether it is arcane or open in the extreme. I attempt to run the gamut because I am pulled by the extremes. I believe the word used wrongly distorts the world. I hold to hard distinctions of right and wrong.”


“We come from a country that has made a fetish if not a virtue out of proving it can live without art: high, low, old, new, fat, lean, and particularly the rarely visible nocturnal art of poetry. We must do something with our time on this small aleatory sphere for motives other than money. Power is not an acceptable surrogate.”


“The artistic reward for refuting the received national tradition is liberation. The price is homelessness. Interior exile.”


“it is not that complexity is overrated, but it is overcomplicated; it is not that obscurity is too obscure, it’s that the underside grows grungy if it isn’t exposed to a change of air;

it is not that the language is exhausted, it is that we run down; it’s not that the edge won’t cut anymore, it is that the cuts are getting thinner;

it’s not that art is artificial, it is that the artists get outright seditty; it’s not that literary reputations are not inevitable, it’s that they are invented;

not that theories are not beautiful, but that they are feeble…”


“If the incision of our words amounts to nothing but a feeling, a slow motion, it will still cut a better swath than the factory model, the corporate model, the penitentiary model, which by my lights are one and the same.”


“Uniformity, in its motives, its goals, its far-ranging consequences, is the natural enemy of poetry, not to mention the enemy of trees, the soil, the exemplary life therein.”


“I like nouns that go up: loft. And ones that sink: mud. I like the ones that peck: chicken. And canter: canter. Those that comfort: flannel and pelt. Cell is an excellent word, in that it sweetly fulfills its assigned sound in a small, thin container. Unlike hell, which is disappointing. Overall. Wanting in force and fury. I like that a lone syllable names a necessary thing: bridge, house, door, food, bed. And the ones that sustain us: dirt, milk, and so on. What a thing, that a syllable—birth, time, space, death—points to the major mysteries with such simplicity, as with a silent finger. And to our very vital parts: head, snout, heart, butt. And our fundamental feeling: fear.”


“Poetry seems especially like nothing else so much as itself. Poetry is not like, it is the very lining of the inner life.”


“Almost none of the poetries I admire stick to their labels, native or adopted ones. Rather, they are vagrant in their identifications. Tramp poets, there you go, a new label for those with unstable allegiances.”


“I am suggesting that the radical of poetry lies not in the resolution of doubts but in their proliferation.”


“If I wanted to understand a culture, my own for instance, and if I thought such an understanding were the basis for a lifelong inquiry, I would turn to poetry first. For it is my confirmed bias that the poets remain the most ‘stunned by existence,’ the most determined to redeem the world in words…”


“Nobody reads poetry, we are told at every inopportune moment. I read poetry. I am somebody. I am the people, too. It can be allowed that an industrious quantity of contemporary American poetry is consciously written for a hermetic constituency; the bulk is written for the bourgeoisie, leaving a lean cut for labor. Only the hermetically aimed has a snowball’s chance in hell of reaching its intended ears. One proceeds from this realization. A staggering figure of vibrant, intelligent people can and do live without poetry, especially without the poetry of their time. This figure includes the unemployed, the rank and file, the union brass, banker, scientist, lawyer, doctor, architect, pilot, and priest. It also includes most academics, most of the faculty of the humanities, most allegedly literary editors and most allegedly literary critics. They do so—go forward in their lives, toward their great reward, in an engulfing absence of poetry—without being perceived or perceiving themselves as hobbled or deficient in any significant way.”


“Poetry is the language of intensity. Because we are going to die, an expression of intensity is justified.”


“Poetry is a necessity of life. It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.”


“Speaking personally, to read or not to read is like asking to starve or not to starve. I am still attached to the illusion that I can lay a hand on a book and feel its heat.”


“In every sense have I felt lonelier than a clod of clay, a whip, a bolsa, a skull of chocolate.


Comrades, be not in mourning for your being

to express happiness and expel scorpions is the best job on earth.”


“Nowhere in poetry have I seen such skies. They reverberate with the violence on the ground, just as the poem’s negative space, vibrating in and around its parataxis, becomes a kind of stateliness, a kind of doing of justice. Isn’t this what minimalism was really for? To put enough space around a thing it might finally get some kind of honest witness.”


  • John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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