first encountered C.D. Wright’s poetry through the back door of photography. Years ago, when I was studying contemporary artists working with 19th century photographic processes, I stumbled across Deborah Luster
‘s collaboration with C.D. Wright, titled One Big Self,
in which the two artists recorded Louisiana’s prison population through tin type images and text (see photo below).
“No single description adequately captures Wright’s work,” the MacArthur Fellowship committee wrote. “She is an experimental writer, a Southern writer, and a socially committed writer, yet she continuously reinvents herself with each new volume.”
Wright’s most recent book, One With Others, mixes investigative journalism, history and poetry to explore homegrown civil rights incidents and the critical role her mentor, a brilliant and difficult woman, played in a little-known 1969 March Against Fear in her native Arkansas.
One With Others vividly demonstrates Wright’s gift for the vernacular. She interweaves oral histories, lists, newspaper accounts, hymns, and memories with the voices of witnesses, neighbors, activists, police, and black students who were rounded up and detained in a drained swimming pool.
As Dan Chiasson wrote in The New Yorker, “One with Others represents Wright’s most audacious experiment yet in loading up lyric with evidentiary fact. An affecting element of this book is the way its elegiac impulses accord with, even as they chafe against, the documentary impulses. Elegies are often accounts of searching for, and discovering, the ancient consolations, among them poetry. And so we have…a competing order of symbol and convention, which makes it possible for subjects otherwise scrupulously real to seem oddly mythic.”
One with Others was a finalist for the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award, and also chosen as a “Best Book of 2010” by NPR, The New Yorker, Library Journal, and the Huffington Post.
It’s been a while since I’ve featured a video installment of the Sunday Poem (and many readers tell me they enjoy hearing a poet read his or her own work). Here is a short PBS NewsHour story on