C.D. Wright was born in January 1949 in a small town in Arkansas and, as most of you probably know, she died in her home in Barrington, Rhode Island this January between the night of the 12th of the month and the morning of the 13th. She and her husband Forrest had just returned on a long flight from Santiago, Chile, where they had spent New Years and visited with the Chilean poets Raul Zurita and Nicanor Parra. C.D. went to bed that night and never woke up. She was in good spirits and, we all thought, good health. A new book of her essays, thoughtfully entitled The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roche, The Big Box Store, The Warp in Time, Spring, Midnights, Fire and All, was just out, and a new book of poems, Shall Cross, and a prose book, Copper Beech, are forthcoming.
So she was working in the full force of her very considerable gifts, but she had from the beginning of her life as a poet worked at full force. Anyone who doubts it can pick up her fourth book and second full-length collection, Further Adventures With You, published thirty years ago, and read the first few pages. There she is: fierce, spiky, unexpected and incandescent. She had been a member of the Community of Writers for almost twenty years. Many of you will have worked with her and will remember her stunning craft lectures, some of which were gathered in Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil, and her readings from the astonishing set of books she produced in those years: Just Whistle, Tremble, Deepstep Come Shining, Steal Away, One Big Self, Rising Falling Hovering, and One With Others. She was an original, a description I notice that has showed up in the many tributes written about her in the past week, which I take to be an acknowledgement of the fact that she made herself up on her own terms out of the possibilities that existed for poetry in the English language in the last decades of the twentieth century as completely as anybody who has been writing in those years. Her death was a shock and an awful loss. She is—in the present tense–a gift to everyone who knew her and who has read and will read her.
Two powerful tributes have appeared since her death that you may want to take a look at, a blog by Ben Lerner in The New Yorker and an essay by Stephen Burt in The Los Angeles Times. The Community of Writers will be celebrating her work and her time among us this June in the annual Benefit Reading of the poetry program.
Director, Poetry Workshop