The Library of Congress announced Thursday that Charles Wright is to be the 20th U.S. poet laureate. Wright, who had previously been approached about the position but demurred, will begin his term in September.
“I’m going to try to pull up my socks here and see what happens,” he told “PBS “NewsHour.” “I hadn’t done it before when it was offered to me and I always felt sort of bad about that -- that I snuck into the shadows where I am more comfortable.”
The first official poet laureate was Robert Penn Warren; Wright will serve for a year and succeed Natasha Trethewey.
Born in 1935, Wright has accrued many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize. In 2011, he was awarded the $150,000 Bollingen Prize for Poetry.
“Charles Wright is a master of the meditative, image-driven lyric,” Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in a news release announcing the appointment. “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.”
Wright was born in Tennessee in 1935; he attended Davidson College in North Carolina and was on the University of Virginia faculty for almost 30 years, retiring in 2011.
However, his path took him beyond the borders of the South. He served in Army intelligence after college. Stationed in Italy after World War II, he found a book of Ezra Pound’s poetry in a shop in Verona.
In Pound, he told the Paris Review, “I discovered a form that seemed suited to my mental and emotional inclinations -- the lyric poem, a form, or subgenre, I guess, that didn’t depend on a narrative structure, but on an imagistic one, an associational one. ‘Gists and piths,’ as they say, instead of intricacy of narrative line.”
After he returned to the U.S., Wright attended the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop and taught at UC Irvine for close to two decades.
He has published 24 books of poems, including “Caribou” (2014), ‘Bye-and-Bye: Selected Late Poems” (2011), “Scar Tissue” (2006), “Country Music: Selected Early Poems” (1983), “Hard Freight” (1973), and “The Grave of the Right Hand” (1970).
“As one gets older, one tries to do more with less. I was much more loquacious when I was younger,” he told “NewsHour.”
“The subject matter will change, what I’m looking at and what I’m thinking about and so on and so forth,” he continued. “But the content, which is language, landscape and the idea of God, particularly the last one, is unchanging, unvarying. And it’s behind all of my poems, even the ones that may not look like it.”
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