Saturday afternoon, I attended a poetry reading featuring Franz Wright. I have seen him read a few times over the years, the most memorable was at the 2004 Dodge Poetry Festival. If memory serves, he was on a panel and the conversation turned to MFA programs, and how he felt they were ruining poetry. He was boisterous and animated and unforgettable. Maybe he was having a bad day.
Since that event, in the times I’ve seen him read, he’s been generous in sharing his work as well as his writing process with the audience. Here are a few observations from the reading.
1. Franz Wright and his father James Wright are the only father and son to win the Pulitzer Prize.
2. I found Franz to be soft spoken, reading from all of his collections, but focusing on Earlier Poems and his latest title, God’s Silence. He didn’t speak very much between poems, and didn’t leave a lot of time between reading the title and the poem's first line. Also, he was monotone in his delivery.
3. Doesn’t matter if you are an emerging poet or an established poet, audiences really don’t respond during poems. While I believe the audience of about 30 people enjoyed the reading, they just listened. Very few giggles or groans of appreciation. Personality, as a reader, I find the silence unnerving.
4. Of the many poems he offered, I particularly liked Wheeling Motel.
5. In his Q&A session, Franz talked about how poets must deal with more than despair as their subject matter. Franz thinks of some of his poems as quite witty. He says that recently he’s let more of his personality come through in his work. He considers himself a distinctly “minor” poet, and that he loves the minor poets. In fact, he thinks post WWII American poetry is some of the best poetry every written--there's certainly enough choices out there.
6. The poet was very open when questions were asked about his father, James Wright. He writes a lot of father poems but he considers it a way of continuing the conversation with his dad. Franz was 25 when his father died. He loved and admired his father but now that he’s gotten some perspective, he realizes that his father “was a terrible parent.”
7. And on writing, Franz doesn’t sit down regularly to write. He keeps lots of notebooks and jots down phrases and ideas during the day. A few weeks later, those fragments somehow come together into a pattern once the conscious intellect takes over.