James Wright (poet)

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James Wright
File:James Wright (poet).jpg
Born James Arlington Wright
(1927-12-13)December 13, 1927
Martins Ferry, Ohio USA
Died March 25, 1980(1980-03-25) (aged 52)
New York, NY
Occupation Poet
Literary movement Deep image poetry
Notable works The Branch Will Not Break

James Arlington Wright (December 13, 1927 – March 25, 1980) was an American poet.


Wright first emerged on the literary scene in 1956 with The Green Wall, a collection of formalist verse that was awarded the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Prize. But by the early 1960s, Wright, increasingly influenced by the Spanish language surrealists, had dropped fixed meters. His transformation achieved its maximum expression with the publication of the seminal The Branch Will Not Break (1963), which positioned Wright as curious counterpoint to the Beats and New York Schools, which predominated on the American coasts.

This transformation had not come by accident, as Wright had been working for years with his friend Robert Bly, collaborating on the translation of world poets in the influential magazine The Fifties (later The Sixties). Such influences fertilized Wright's unique perspective and helped put the Midwest back on the poetic map.

Wright had discovered a terse, imagistic, free verse of clarity, and power. During the next ten years Wright would go on to pen some of the most beloved and frequently anthologized masterpieces of the century, such as "A Blessing," "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio," and "I Am a Sioux Indian Brave, He Said to Me in Minneapolis."

Wright's son Franz Wright was also a poet. Together they are the only parent/child pair to have won a Pulitzer Prize in the same category (Poetry).


Wright's early poetry is relatively conventional in form and meter, especially compared with his later, looser poetry. Although most of his fame comes from his original poetry, Wright made a contribution to another area or literary modernism- the translation. Ezra Pound insisted that translation was in itself an art of the highest creative order. His work with translations of German and South American poets, as well as the poetry and aesthetic position of Robert Bly, had considerable influence on his own poems; this is most evident in The Branch Will Not Break, which departs radically from the formal style of Wright's previous book, Saint Judas. In addition to his own poetry, he also published loose translations of René Char's hermetic poems.

His poetry often deals with the disenfranchised, or the American outsider. Wright suffered from depression and bipolar mood disorders and also battled alcoholism his entire life. He experienced several nervous breakdowns, was hospitalized, and was subjected to electroshock therapy. His dark moods and focus on emotional suffering were part of his life and often the focus of his poetry, although given the emotional turmoil he experienced personally, his poems can be optimistic in expressing a faith in life and human transcendence. In The Branch Will Not Break, the enduring human spirit becomes thematic. Nevertheless, the last line of his poem "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota" famously ends, "I have wasted my life."[1]

Technically, Wright was an innovator, especially in the use of his titles, first lines, and last lines, which he used to great dramatic effect in defense of the lives of the disenfranchised. He is equally well known for his tender depictions of the bleak landscapes of the post-industrial American Midwest. Since his death, Wright has developed a cult following, transforming him into a seminal writer of significant influence. Hundreds of writers gathered annually for decades following his death to pay tribute at the James Wright Poetry Festival held from 1981 through 2007 in Martins Ferry.

His 1972 Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize. In addition to his other awards, Wright received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.


Published in his lifetime

Unless otherwise noted, year is when published:[2]

Published posthumously

  • This Journey (1982; completed in 1980)
  • The Temple at Nîmes (1982)
  • James Wright, In Defense Against This Exile. Letters To Wayne Burns., edited with an introduction by John R. Doheny (1985)
  • Above the River - the Complete Poems, introduction by Donald Hall (1992)
  • Selected Poems (2005)
  • A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright (2005)
  • The Delicacy and Strength of Lace: Letters Between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright., edited by Anne Wright and Joy Harjo (2009)

See also


  1. Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota by James Wright
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Brunner, Edward, "James Wright: Biographical Sketch", Modern American Poetry website, accessed April 19, 2008


  • Saundra Maley, Solitary Apprenticeship: James Wright and German Poetry (Lewiston, Maine: Edwin Mellen Press, 1996).
  • Magill, Frank N. Critical Survey of Poetry. Vol. 8. Pasadena: Salem, 1992. Print.

External links