Having spent some concentrated time reading Walking to Martha’s Vineyard on the plane home on Sunday evening and then having had some time to think over the poems I’d read, I think I’m now ready to share some of my opinions and impressions about Wright’s work.
First, let me say that up until this point, my only knowledge of Wright’s writing has been what he has submitted to the “Letters to the Editor” section of Poetry magazine and to the comment boxes of many of my peers’ blogs. This man—confrontational, pedantic, aggressive—is not the voice of Walking, although they seem to share a name and a history.
What first struck me was the spareness of these poems. Generally I like a poem with as little language as possible—it means each word is (hopefully) doing more than its share of work. Wright’s poems in this collection often come to the reader as hushed, overheard prayers that are as bold in their confessional tone as they are for their spareness. (Disclaimer: I am not calling Wright a Confessional poet, nor am I indicating this collection is confessional: I mean that these poems do, to some degree, evoke a sense of speaking directly to God or to the speaker’s past.) These poems draw a clear picture of this voice, who is concerned both with the past and with his present state of affairs, and how both of these ultimately (and irrevokably) lead one toward death.
To some degree, reading the poems became almost uncomfortable as the voice divulged more and more intimate details of his life. It was similar to being on a train while someone engages in a very personal cell phone call, of which you hear only the most intimate and revealing half, with no hope of escape. But I think the truths Wright pursues in these poems are uncomfortable, and the fact that the poems transmit this to the reader is a success.
I don’t think every poem in the collection works as well as the next, but overall I thought they were compelling pieces. The desires in the book—for forgiveness, for reconciliation, for self-understanding and health—are things most of us can identify with and understand.