Sestets Poems

Charles Wright

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

96 Pages



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Sestets is the nineteenth book from one of the country’s most acclaimed poets, a masterpiece of formal rigor and a profound meditation on nature and mortality. It is yet another virtuosic showcase for Charles Wright’s acclaimed descriptive powers, and also an inquiry into the nature of description itself, both seductive and dangerous: “a virtual world/ Unfit for the virtuous.” Like his previous books, Sestets is seeded with the lyrics of old love songs and spirituals, and “there is always room to connect his highly polished poems to the world where most of us lead mundane lives” (Miami Herald). Soaring and earthy, lyrical and direct, Charles Wright is an American treasure, and his search for a truth that transcends change and death settles finally on the beauties of nature and language: “Time is a graceless enemy, but purls as it comes and goes.”


Praise for Sestets

"This is the masterful language of a poet who can make us feel that what he says about the world is how it is . . . Sensually rich and gratifying."—Langdon Hammer, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"[Wright composes] lyrics of great beauty that achieve a level of eloquence where the reader says to himself, If this is not wisdom, I don'y know what is."—Charles Simic, The New York Review of Books
"There are precious few contemporary poets in whose work I find as much sheer wisdom as in Wright's . . . The whole world seems to orbit in a kind of meditative, slow circle around Wright's grave influence."—David Baker, Poetry
"Inside [Wright's] lyric, there resides a world well beyond the ordinary . . . It is the heart and soul that he delivers so eloquently."—Thomas Curwen, Los Angeles Times
"[Wright''s] work . . . does what the best poetry can do: whisk you to another world."—Amy Sparks, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
"Charles Wright has been America's reigning southern mystic for almost four decades now. In books like Country Music and Chickamauga, he turned the mythology of his native Tennessee and Virginia into a mirror cosmology of the heaven. History, he poems observe, is as immutable as distant galaxies. Bent-back, sober-eyes, his poems reach wisdom with wonder and curiosity, traveling along a poetic line that is so uniquely his own it comes with its own sound. With Sestets, however, Wright has begun to address the most immutable thing of all—mortality. Not surprisingly, this is a dark and intimate book, to read these poems is to eavesdrop on a man meditating on life's final question . . . Time and again, the poems in Sestets perform this surprising pivot: pondering eternity, they cascade from a position of terror to a grace note . . . The form helps him along. A sestet is the second half of an Italian sonnet, the part where emotion takes a turn . . . There are more than five-dozen poems in Sestets, a feast by many standards. But the poems have a delicacy which cannot be gorged upon. Reading this book straight through cheapens its tentative wisdom. It also reveals the rare few moments when Wright reaches for meaning rather than allows it occur through the evolution of a poem . . . Like Gary Snyder, Wright is at his best when he has become all but invisible within his own work. Even in poems that ponder the vanity of descriptive arts—I see it, therefore it exists—he displays an astonishing descriptive facility."—John Freeman, Sun Sentinel

“Culture vultures may mob the Tom Waitses and Lil Waynes of our planet, but any poet of the page lives free of paparazzi. The Tennessee-born Wright deserves crowds. He’s etched the bare rock face of American poetry with his glyphs for 19 books now, won a National Book Award (1983, for Country Music) and a Pulitzer Prize (1998, for Black Zodiac). Still, as far as the popular reader goes, all this and a buck ninety buys a cup of Starbucks. Sestets, Wright’s newest, is a fresh-eyed experiments in six-line verse form, and it shows Wright’s usual theme: He lives to describe. Here’s how he put it in an earlier book, Scar Tissue (2006): ‘I write out my charms and spells / against the passage of light / and gathering evil.’ So Wright.”—Charles McNair, Paste magazine

"Wright’s new book, Sestets, looks like a return to his earlier ideal of compactness. As he did in his youthful work, the poet strictly limits the length of his poems, in this case to six lines each. Yet these 70 poems feel spacious rather than condensed. Part of this effect comes from the fact that there the latest poems literally take up more space on the page, even though they are very short . . . Wright has learned to make expansiveness fit comfortably into little rooms, as neat a trick as you can find in poetry, old or new . . . There is a recurrent note of resignation in the Sestets, and this also ties them to the tone of Wright’s later work. He has always been a poet concerned with grand ideas—or rather he has always been sorry that he no longer believes in grand ideas. When he was younger however, announcing that the New Poem would not be able to help us, he was angry about it. Nowadays, he’s less angry. In Sestets, Wright sees as clearly as ever that poems won’t help, and neither will God . . . These poems are not grand: they’re only six lines long. But they can seem grand. They do not have dreams you can count on, but sometimes they appear to have such dreams, anyway."—Bookslut

"This 19th collection by the much-garlanded Wright finds the poet in his familiar meditative stance, but here he imposes calibrated limits on both his universe of available influences and his stylistic range in order to ferret out 'the metaphysics of the quotidian.' Keeping metaphor and simile to a minimum, Wright draws his concrete imagery from the immediate, Walden-like surroundings of a country landscape ('one duck on the narrow water, pond/Stocked with clouds') with the patience and diligence of a bird-watcher, probing for signs and wonders they might suggest. What he conveys in these seemingly casual, spare, six-line poems is a sense of bittersweet impermanence, an ephemerality that underlies everything ('Like shadows, we spread ourselves until our hands touch, then disappear in the dark')."—Fred Muratori, Library Journal

"Wright's gifts for single long lines, simple description and lyrical sound effects are second to none; he is the recipient of almost every American poetry award, including the Pulitzer. Even so gifted a poet, though, risks repeating himself after 18 books; the longer poems had begun to look like collections of interchangeable lines, however beautiful. If Wright was in a rut, this 19th book has found a neat way out. The 69 poems here, not unlike most of his earlier work, show vistas from the Upper South and points of view derived from Taoism, but they share a self-limiting form that is fresh for Wright: each has only six lines . . . In these sestets great yearnings and brief descriptions collide, cancel or reinforce each other: 'The heart of the world lies open, leached and ticking with sunlight/ For just a minute or so,' says one poem. In another, 'The past is so dark, you need a flashlight to find your own shoes.' Mortality is omnipresent, but so is beauty, in and around Charlottesville (where Wright teaches), in our musical heritage, in the night sky. Wright's compression tries to see that every subject, every image, receives its due."—Publishers Weekly

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Charles Wright, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Book Award, and the Griffin Poetry Prize, teaches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In 2014, he was named Poet Laureate of the United States.
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  • 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