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Thursday, December 27, 2007

2007: Looking back, James Wright and New Reading List

Many of the events of this passing year are now long behind me. I say that because despite a pretty active November (NaNoWriMo), the second part of the year moved slow, as if not wanting to jump off that inevitable cliff called December. The highlight of my summer, of course, was the visit by Eugene and Ilse Dumolin. I worked very hard this past summer too, something I am trying to break the habit of doing. It's not that I am not going to work at all, but I learned this year that a lot of preparation doesn't mean less work later on during the semester. At any rate, that is done and it is now irreparable and incommunicable.

"The Selected Letters of James Wright" continue to drip out of the covers of that book like sweet honey. Wright is a master poet, and without repeating myself too much I don't want anyone arguing that point with me unless, of course, you are a Wright scholar of some sort. Otherwise, we have nothing to argue about. This man's brilliance is without comparison. To struggle and write like he did is nothing short of a blessed miracle. Here he takes account of his ongoing bout with depression:

"The illness is strange--I tried to describe it to you in one of my earliest letters to you. It is that catathymic depression again, but this time it has come very close to crippling me to the point of really blocking off any ability to function at all.... I have been getting the shuddering horrors, indescribably so, and frequently going to pieces, sometimes in really mad and violent ways.... I see less and less reason for bothering with anything. Anything at all. I know I am too tangled in the wrong kind of life ever to get out of it. I just wish I could forget the despair.... You know, sometimes I try to escape the thought, but it returns and returns and returns: that some day I shall rise at morning and simply walk outside and away, leaving everything behind, like Buddha."

Wright's ability to write despite this ongoing bout with depression is something I will never be able to understand. In 1959, this man was at the height of publishing, writing essays for critical analysis, etc., all the while suffering from a paralyzing depression. If that doesn't cure the most stoic among us, I don't know what will. His letters have been a source of comfort to me throughtout most of this year. I have read them very carefully, taking my time and seeing in them the succor any writer needs when in doubt of the writing process. I still have over 150 pages to go and I am taking it slow, savoring every word from this genius. While I've only posted from the letters, pretty soon, (perhaps in 2008) I will post from the "Selected Poems," a book which has won my admiration because 1) the letters, and 2) its capacity for wonder and awe.

What's interesting about admiring a person for their genius is that one ends up remembering things that otherwise would just slip between our intellectual radars. I have a deep appreciation and admiration for George Washington. I think it began in middle school. A couple of days ago I was thinking about Washington's crossing of the Delaware river to go attack the Hessian mercenaries stationed at Trenton, New Jersey during the War for Independence. I was driving to the store around 9 AM when I remembered that that very same morning, December 26th in 1776, around that very same time, Washington was attacking the Hessians into what would be the turning point of the war. Washington has a special place in my heart. Don't ask me why, but I appreciate his tenacity and his unwillingness to give up or surrender the cause. If you ask me, that's the kind of president we need right now.... so vote George Washington in 2008.

I decided a while back to only read "Classics" this coming year. While the gesture was an honest one, I started having second thoughts because I find it very limiting; specially when my eyes and hands simply cannot or do not want to stay put in one specific genre. I am certainly not giving up entirely on the classics; think of it, I am reading titles it never even crossed my mind to read (for example, Charles Dicken's "The Pickwick Papers"). The list doesn't seem overwhelming in terms of numbers (there's only 23 books on the list right now), but the majority of them are "kilometric" titles (Tolstoy's "War and Peace"). Seeing that I still have much work to go on "The Silence of This Wall," before June 2008, I will say that the list is ambitious for the amount of time I might have. Of course, I will be timing it so as to take advantage of things like, my upcoming trip to China in April (nothing beats 14 hours of non-stop reading--believe me, I've done it twice coming and going to Japan). At any rate, here's the official picture for the 2008 Reading List: LIST

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At 5:46 PM, Blogger Suzan Abrams said...

Wonderful JCR.
I started reading furiously again from October this year. The times this has happened are not often but it is a long phase when things tend to go well for me.
I am quite excited to see where my reading journey will take me in 2008.
I feel like stepping back into the ancient classics and have just purchased Euripides's Orestes And Other Plays.
Btw, with Wright and the subject of depression. Sometimes, especially when recovering from a trauma, the artist may still be too numbed to believe in the self and is blind to the beauty others can see in its art. There is sadness in such a knowledge and that may have accounted for Wright's own paralysing depression at the height of his brilliance.
Happy New Year, JCR. :-)


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