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This article is taken from PN Review 14, Volume 6 Number 6, July - August 1980.

Martin Seymour-Smith

David Wright is conspicuous in contemporary English poetry because he embodies poetic virtues the importance of which has become obscured in our over-sophisticated age. He has kept clear of fashion, and has gone resolutely on his own way. There is much to be said about his poetry; but in this short tribute I should like to draw attention to only two of its more remarkable features.

The first is his sense of rhythm. All poetry, it may confidently be said, is rhythmically distinctive. David Wright's rhythms have become increasingly personal and assured; and, perhaps because he is deaf (he has written a superb book about this), they have a quality I cannot find anywhere else in English poetry. For me, they exemplify his extreme conscientiousness: his dogged search for the residue of goodness in life's mixed circumstances.

This brings me to the second compelling feature of his poetry. Wright is originally South African, so that his roots reach into a past at least more obtrusively troubled and "difficult" than that of some others. South Africa, its history and its present, gives rise to much stridency. Compare David Wright's poems to all that stridency-and we learn the lesson that conscientious and honest poetry tells us more than biased or hysterical commentary. I should hesitate to describe the poems about South Africa as "compassionate": it would be patronizing, and besides, isn't to be truly human to be compassionate-or something even more exact, which lies outside the scope ...

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