The poet and Brown University professor C.D. Wright died unexpectedly yesterday. She was a tenacious, ever-changing writer. She could write the hell out of a short lyric, as the poem I link to in the caption attests. But I'm more familiar with her recent work, which tends to be prosier, more documentary-style, but just as powerful.
I highly recommend One Big Self, in which, along with photographer Deborah Luster, Wright examines the Louisiana prison system. In the poems, Wright lets the voices of the incarcerated women who she interviewed speak through her own one big self, imposing her view only by way of page arrangement. One with Others, another book of poems in an investigative journalist-type mode, presents a collage portrait of a civil rights activist from her hometown in Arkansas. The book was nominated for a National Book Award in 2010, and it won the National Book Critics Circle Award that year. Wright garnered several other awards as well, including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim, a Whiting Award, and the Griffin Prize for poetry.
Recently, Wright stopped by Elliott Bay Books to read from and help promote What About This, a collection of poems by Frank Stanford. She had a reserved, quite humor and seemed approachable, but I was too bashful to do so.
A fellow poet-friend of mine who told me the news of Wright's death directed me to an essay Wright had written about odes, entitled, "The New American Ode." It's so smart and instructive, indicative of her own form of praise. Her ability to select the most memorable thing someone said is represented here, as is her ability to create many of her own memorable phrases. Until reading this piece, I had no idea that she was the creator of the definition for an ode poem that I've been using for several years. She writes: "The ode celebrates an occasion or individual or more frequently an individual on an occasion."
Ultimately, Wright was committed to the spirit of the ode—a praise poem "in full dress." In that spirit, on this occasion, let's praise her. You can start by checking out her newest book from Copper Canyon, the greatly and longly titled: The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All.