Scar Tissue Poems

Charles Wright

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

88 Pages



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In his new collection, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Charles Wright investigates the tenuous relationship between description and actuality—"A thing is not an image"—but also reaffirms the project of attempting to describe, to capture the natural world and the beings in it. He reminds us that landscape is not his subject matter but his technique: that language was always his subject—language and the ghost of God. And in the dolomites, the clouds, stars, wind, and water that populate these poems, "Something unordinary persists."

Scar Tissue is a groundbreaking work from a poet who "illuminates and exalts in the entire astonishing spectrum of existence" (Booklist).


Praise for Scar Tissue

"Charles Wright offers slews of . . . indescribable moments, instances in which the reader feels she has been closely studied and included in the work, as if the poet were clairvoyant. The result is an intoxicating combination of déjà vu, jealousy, exhilaration and joy, the poetic equivalent of a runner's high . . . Poets such as Hart Crane, Emily Dickinson and Wright's beloved Pound, though stylistically different, would inhabit a similar plane of vigor, distinctiveness and skill . . . What a delight."—Jenna Krajeski, San Francisco Chronicle

"A sunset in Appalachia opens this, Wright's seventeenth volume of poetry: a familiar gesture, that of valediction, of Augustinian tribute to the luminosity of time, of landscape's fractured fullness: ‘the country of Narrative, that dark territory / Which spells out our stories in sentences, which gives them an end and beginning . . .' Wright's affinity for philosophical meditation finds its perfect vehicle in painterly description: ‘Sunset in Appalachia, bituminous bulwark / Against the western skydrop. / An advent of gold and green, an Easter of ashes.' For Wright, as for Stevens, description is not an artificial replication of a landscape's literal likeness. Description, instead, is revelation: ‘Sunlight like Vaseline in the tress / smear and shine, smear and shine. / Ten days of rain and now the echoing forth of blank and blue / Through the evergreens' (Matins'). Composition of place grounds the poet in the material world even as it launches him deeper into and through it: ‘The sound of the lilac upsurge rings bells for the bees. / Cloud puffs, like mortars rounds from the afterlife, / pock mark the sky. / Time, in its crystal goblet, laps and recedes, laps and recedes.' Wright's characteristically lengthy lines are aptly suited to a longitudinal view of philosophical puzzles. Mentors and guides populate Wright's ontological meditations: Chinese classical poets, the Manicheans, the Pre-Socratic and Neo-Platonic philosophers, Kafka's Hunter Gracchus (an admirable character whose ‘immemorially long and windy body' ‘Floats again/ Through the bouyant dark of the pine forest')—even the Eliot of the Four Quartets ghosts the book's title poem. Here, the poet looks to the hidden mysteries of the worlds—insects, roots, ‘the shadowy overkill / of the evening sun going down.' This, Wright tells us, is ‘the time of mixed masks.' / This is time of our songs, / of love gone wrong, of sixes and sevens. / The almost hour, the zero-zero. / This is the one place we feel at home, this is our zone.' Wright's legacy is one of deliberative grace: the poetry of luminous moments, a place we, too, feel at home."—Jane Satterfield, The Antioch Review

"A philosopher-poet of the Appalachian South, Wright reflects on time's tricky game of give-and-take and the life-defining practice of translating nature's semaphore into words. In deeply etched and finely burled poems veined with show-stopping metaphors, Wright describes the press of sunlight, the journeys of clouds, the music of water, and the mass of mountains. Against this earthly grandeur, humankind is mere mist, smoke, dew: 'We are Nature's nobodies.' At the heart of this beautiful and questioning collection is an undeclared yet electrifying ars poetica, so that in 'Confessions of a Song and Dance Man,' Wright first mocks his servitude to language, then neatly undermines vaudevillian self-deprecation by linking himself to the red-winged blackbird, since both bird and poet need 'a place to ruffle and strut, / a place to perch and sing.' Marshaling language in an attempt to lasso life, lash down memories, and endure nostalgia, the poet is 'hoping for words that are not impermanent.' Although Wright fears that all is fox fire, the eerie glow of decay, he seeks the preserving gleam of amber."—Donna Seaman, Booklist

"A restless spirituality haunts this latest outing from Pulitzer Prize winner Wright (Black Zodiac), a collection of meditations that question 'the Heracletian backwash' of memory, the relative significance (if any) of human presence in the universe, and our Romantic nostalgia for the sunlit and moonlit landscapes that 'ignite us into a false love for the physical world.' It's not the world itself, Wright hints, but our imaginative recasting of it, in language or in art, that inspires us. Though his poems evoke an aura of Zen calm, a fascination with paradox and ambiguity suggesting a perspective poised just outside of time, they are Western at the core, proactive, willing to be distracted, unsatisfied with their own open-ended conclusions. If the spirit 'is looking for somewhere to dissipate,' its search may well be ceaseless. A 'God-fearing agnostic,' Wright recognizes our 'desperation for unknown things, a thirst/ For endlessness that snakes through our bones . . .' Though Wright's longtime readers will find familiar territory here, they may also detect a sharper tone, as the poet, now 70, confronts mortality with renewed urgency."—Library Journal

"The phrasemaking lyricism of this 17th volume plays to Wright's familiar strengths: 42 long-lined poems mix calm, Taoist-inflected wisdom with lush descriptions of landscapes in Italy, North Carolina (where he grew up) and Virginia's Blue Ridge country (where he now lives). 'There is no end to the other world,' Wright announces, 'no matter where it is,' and that other world shimmers and glows amid this one: 'Wet days are their own reward for now, / litter's lapse and the pebble's gleam.' Wright sounds by turns learned and folksy: Chinese classical poets continue to give Wright models and precedents, while Kafka's parable of the hunter Gracchus (who travels the world in his coffin) provides a darker undertone. Ischia, Rome and Florence compete with southern roads in Wright's scenery, where 'Whatever is insignificant has its own strength.' The title sequence concentrates on nostalgia, 'Lost loves and the love of loss,' trying to find a deeper appreciation both of the historical past and of the poet's childhood memories. Wright makes a slight departure from his recent books in the valedictory, even triumphant, feel of this one: long content to chronicle flux and presence, Wright looks these days to the future, in which the world and its beauty outlast us."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Charles Wright

  • Charles Wright was awarded the National Book Award in Poetry in 1983 for Country Music and the 1995 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for Chickamauga. In 2008, he was honored for his lifetime achievement with the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry. He is also the winner of the Pulitzer Price, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and the Bollingen Prize for American Poetry.In 2014, Wright was named the 20th Poet Laureate of the United States for 2014-2015. Wright lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

  • Charles Wright © Holly Wright