Reading James Wright’s Last Book for the first time

lying in a hammock

My favorite James Wright poem…at least until this weekend when I run out and buy every single one of his books.

This morning I created a new page on the website for my father’s poem entitled “Reading James Wright’s Last Book.”  It is a beautiful poem and I have always loved the imagery of the last Great Blue Whale sounding for the last time.  But I must admit, I had never read any of James Wright’s poetry.  Not ever.  So this morning after creating the page for that poem, I decided to look him up.   (Here is where I confess to being the daughter of a poet who has never taken a poetry class.)

What I found was marvelous.   Not only did I instantly connect with his writing, but I could see just how much of an influence he was on my dad’s writing.   The voice, the tone, the themes.    My favorite of his (so far!) is “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota.”   I can’t quite articulate why I loved this poem so much, but I connected with in deeply… and I am sure that my father did also.

So here is Joe Salerno’s poem — a beautiful tribute to another remarkable poet.

Reading James Wright’s Last Book

I sit down alone under a tree in the backyard
And read the last poems of James Wright
Afraid for the book to end, I stop a long time
Between each poem, and when I have finished
Two or three, I go back and read them again, aloud,
Letting the voice reveal whatever my eyes had missed
The first time — that harsh, compassionate voice
Defeated beyond defeat, moving tenderly over
The broken landscapes of Italy and grim Ohio.
And what I feel is public loss, part of nature;
Like the way we’ll all feel when they tell us
The last Great Blue Whale has sounded for the last time
And the whole sea is empty that day…
“Good-bye to the living place,” he says at the end
of the poem on page 18, “and all I ask it to do
Is to stay alive.” And there, on the clean white space,
An ant climbs up the edge of the book
And enters the page.


James Wright

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