Friday, February 06, 2004

Charles Wright - Charlottesville, VA

Along with Miller Williams - who one can find in the 09/07/2003 archive to the left - Charles Wright belongs on American poetry's Mt. Rushmore. Wright has been a titanic figure in American letters for 40 years and his power is undiminished. It is frankly with some nerves that I appear at his three story home in Charlottesville on absolutely the crummiest weather day of the trip. It's 32 degrees and it's been raining for 9 hours. Trees and power lines are ice coated. The main streets are clear and wet, but the small road in front of Wright's house is like the area around the blue line at the Montreal Forum.

But a typhoon couldn't keep me from making this appointment. I've been a fan of Wright's for as long as I've read and written poetry, and it is enough for me today to simply meet him.

I slide along the circular driveway in front of the gorgeous but imposing gray house and Wright waits for me on the porch. He's a little surprised I'm sans hat, umbrella, etc. We go inside the dark and warm first floor and he leads me up two flights of stairs to his study. I, meanwhile, am bumping the camera bag and tripod against every hard surface. A small dog, locked away for the visit, sets up a little barking to let me know I'm making too much noise.

We emerge into the spacious attic, really more like an entire floor of the house, shaped like a cross with four annexes to the outside world. Wright's been in the house for 20 years, formerly a boarding house, but it was the previous owner - an artist - who fixed it up, including this great floor.

I spot a large table in the center of the room and begin getting equipment out. I notice a little beaten down chair next to a small table in one of the nooks and ask Wright if I can use it. He assents. It's 30 minutes later when we're talking about where he works that I realize this is his chair. It's off to the side near a window that opens over the front of the house, and it's where he writes in longhand. I'm in his chair. I might as well ask him if I can use his toothbrush before I go.

But, on this horrible gray day we sit alongside a large wooden table and I ask questions - who knows what questions I think of to ask - and all too soon it's over.

I get out the 35mm cameras and Wright positions himself in a large arm chair draped with a lovely patterned sheet and I shoot some photos. We talk a bit about a couple of poets I've met along the way who Wright knows. We stand by the table where he works and he points to a scattering of 30-40 photos, all of which have worked their way into his poems over the years. Except one. There's a black and white shot of The Silhouettes, a doo-wop group of the mid and late 50s who are most remembered for their single "Get a Job." That one hadn't made it into a poem, until this week that is. Wright tells me that he's just got something started about that photo.

He'll need more photos soon. We need more poems from him, so I pray he gets some more photos up there soon.