Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

From Pickwick Dam to Poet Laureate

Library of Congress names Charles Wright the next Poet Laureate of the U.S.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced yesterday that Charles Wright will serve as the twentieth Poet Laureate of the U.S. Wright will assume his post in the fall of this year, beginning with a reading at the Library on September 25.

“Charles Wright is a master of the meditative, image-driven lyric,” Billington said in a press release. “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.”

National media attention immediately followed the announcement, with The New York Times describing his life’s work as an effort to “fuse the legacy of European modernism with mystical evocations of the landscape of the American South” and NPR calling it, simply, “unrelentingly beautiful,” observing that

Wright’s poems… match a certain notion of what poetry ought to sound like: ‘wise,’ first and foremost, tackling big ideas such as spirituality and life and death. They tend to approach the spiritual in an open-ended way, as though someone smart were writing a kind of improvisational Bible with a Southern twang (like Trethewey, the outgoing laureate, Wright is from the South—Tennessee, to be exact) in which God and nature are mostly interchangeable.

Wright, who is retired from the English Department at the University of Virginia, has now won every significant poetry award there is: the National Book Award, the PEN Translation Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Griffin Prize, the American Book Award in Poetry, The Los Angeles Times Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize. “I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” he told The New York Times in an interview about his appointment. “But as soon as I find out, I’ll do it.”

For a full discussion of the work of Charles Wright, check back with Chapter 16 on June 20.

To read Chapter 16‘s review of Bye-and-Bye: Selected Late Poems, click here. To read “On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee,” a poem from Charles Wright’s collection Sestets and reprinted by permission at Chapter 16, click here.