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This review is taken from PN Review 174, Volume 33 Number 4, March - April 2007.

LOOKING FOR LETHE CHARLES WRIGHT, Scar Tissue (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) $22

'The major poetic idea in the world is and always has been the idea of God.' That is not Charles Wright. It is Wallace Stevens and it's a line Wright quotes in his collection of prose 'improvisations' called Halflife. Reading Wright's poetry it's easy to understand the poet's sympathy with Stevens. In Wright's recently published Scar Tissue, he declares himself a 'God-fearing agnostic'. I don't doubt his agnosticism, and there is a certain charm in such a declaration, but Wright is clearly interested in the 'idea of God'. The religious references in his poetry are many, and the tone is ironic, even playful. The speaker in one poem admits that he 'mumble[s] kyrie eleison' as he dances in an 'acolyte's robes'. 'High Country Canticle' is the name of another poem and the German visionary Hildegard of Bingen is summoned in yet another. Religious poetry hasn't been so much fun since John Donne. It's as if the poet wore big floppy shoes under his monk's smock. But that doesn't keep Wright's poems from being among the most beautiful religious poems written today. By 'religious' I mean that they search for permanence and form. In the book's title poem he calls this search a kind of desperation:

There is desperation for unknown things, a thirst
For endlessness that snakes through our bones
Like a lit fuse looking for Lethe,
                                               whose waters reward us,
Their blackness a gossamer and ...


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