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This review is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

Cover of Oblivion Banjo
M.C. CaseleyA Sustainable Ecstasy
Charles Wright, Oblivion Banjo (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) £38.90
Despite a stint as US Poet Laureate and his 1997 collection Black Zodiac winning a Pulitzer Prize, Charles Wright retains a comparatively low profile in this country compared to, say, Denise Levertov or John Ashbery. This generous selection, spanning seventeen of his books from the period 1973 to 2014, is an ideal starting-point for anyone wishing to explore his distinctive voice.

My first encounter with it came when Stride published the 1998 Zone Journals in this country, roughly halfway through his career, and I then worked backwards to Country Music, a 1982 gathering of his early work. Zone Journals is fairly representative of mid-period Wright, pushing his long, imagistic, broken line as far as it will go, free verse wearing a mask similar to narrative, colloquial prose. The early work in Country Music, on the other hand, the constituent parts of which occupy the first hundred pages here, reveals a more orthodox voice, one heavily indebted to Pound.

In many interviews, Wright has pinpointed one Pound poem, ‘Blandula, Tenulla, Vagula’, which he came across whilst living in Italy in 1959, working for the US Army. Travelling the Italian countryside, he encountered places mentioned by Pound and this was foundational to his early poetic awakening and development. It is fitting, therefore, that this volume begins with ‘Homage to Ezra Pound’, in which he salutes the ‘cold-blooded father of light’, a survivor in self-imposed silence. Wright’s poems, too, are full of place-names, incantations of the American South, Virginia, Charlottesville, and his own landscapes. He has acknowledged himself ...

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