Tags: charles wright | poet laureate

Charles Wright Poet Laureate: Writer 'Confused' but Thankful for Honor

By    |   Thursday, 12 Jun 2014 02:03 PM

Charles Wright has been named Poet Laureate of the United States, but he has no idea what that actually means.

"I’m very honored and flattered to be picked, but also somewhat confused," he told The New York Times. "I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do. But as soon as I find out, I’ll do it."

Wright, 79, a retired professor of the University of Virginia, was chosen for the prestigious title by The Library of Congress, which made the announcement Thursday. He will be the 20th poet named to the post.

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The southern poet, born in Tennessee not far from a Civil War battlefield, began writing poetry while stationed in Italy with the Army, and has since won a great many awards with his 24 collections — including a Pulitzer, National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Many of his collections, including his first, "The Grave of the Right Hand," draw from a palette that includes nature and mortality.

"Charles Wright is a master of the meditative, image-driven lyric," said James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress. "For almost 50 years his poems have reckoned with what he calls 'language, landscape, and the idea of God.' Wright’s body of work combines a Southern sensibility with an allusive expansiveness, for moments of singular musicality."

"He speaks of poetry's mysterious power in a way I think most Americans can relate to — and you can see that mystery in his work," said Robert Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress.

Wright, who told The Washtington Post, "I guess I’ll have to wear my suit," recommends those unfamiliar with his work start with "The Other Side of the River," published in 1984.

Past poet laureates have executed widely varying projects under the post, including a poem-a-day program for high schools, a weekly newspaper column, and a PBS NewsHour that toured the country to find out "Where Poetry Lives."

Wright said he's not sure just what he'll do yet.

Speaking about outgoing poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, he said, "She was great at it, but I’ve been around the block more than twice — I’m 79."

"I guess I’ll bring wisdom and good luck," he continued. "It’s all a new experience for me. Basically, one has to pull up one’s socks and say, 'I’ll do it.' My wife wanted me to. She wouldn’t say so, but she wanted me to. I think she thought we’d be coming up to D.C. and going to museums."

He plans to figure out his plan of action over the next three months, but for now he's headed to his house in Montana. There's no phone there, but there is an answering machine in a shed 10 miles away that he checks twice a week.

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Charles Wright has been named Poet Laureate of the United States, but he has no idea what that actually means.
charles wright, poet laureate
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2014-03-12
Thursday, 12 Jun 2014 02:03 PM
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