Friday, May 15, 2015

On Franz Wright death and e-mails/wonderful exchanges with Franz

Here's a great totally amazing interview of Franz Wright with Christopher Lydon. Please listen while you read

Franz and I, June 2012, photo by Charles Gabriel Gager

The first time I met Franz Wright, Doug Holder and I had moved The Somerville News Writers Festival to a large venue, The Somerville Theater, which seats over 1,000 folks. We wanted big names, so Franz and Robert Olen Butler were brought aboard and with them, we had the star power of two Pulitzer Prize winning writers.

Franz, that night was uncomfortably shy, though it was probably some sort of social unaccountability in retrospect. He delivered a killer set before the break, and he was quiet,  gracious and polite. What we knew going in was that he battled the demons of mental health, addiction and depression, sometimes bravely, sometimes with the hint of retreat, sometimes with the anger of a man fed up with the cards he dealt. At the reading, he told us that when he was sick, he didn't write a poem for a number of years...not one. Then around the time of 9-11, he felt he had reached his own personal ground zero and he began to write again.

I had the pleasure to hang out with Franz Wright a few more times, work with him as an editor (see e-mail exchange below) and also to hear him read multiple times. If you are familiar with the accounts of him artfully and often uncontrollably "flipping out" at friends, colleagues and acquaintances,  this was not the Franz Wright I ever knew. That explosive person is one I will not honor nor defend, as I don't have an opinion on any of those exchanges specifically.

Franz was a believer of "words for meaning, not for words sake". He also had strong opinions about MFA programs for poetry, viewing academic institutes a money generating machines for and the ridiculous concept of poets, being named or honored as Masters in poetry, at ages which they haven't experienced much of life yet.

Franz Wright was also modest, generous and vulnerable with his work. Here is an exchange I had with him bia e-mail, regarding some of his new work he had offered to The Printer's Devil Review. The mere fact that a writer who won a Pulitizer Prize working with me in this manner, is mind blowing.

January 18, 2011
 Franz Wright- Here they are. Pretty weird stuff if you ask me. What is the name of the journal again? (I have to at least pretend to keep track)

Timothy Gager- No, those are both fabulous! Did you wish us to pick one or could we use both? We're (Printer's Devil Review) excited about them either way.

Franz Wright:
I have made a huge mistake with "Ventriloquism" which may well survive,
but not in its present form, about a third of it at the end is shit, not
what I want at all. So I will have to send you something else.I think I'll
leave the prose alone for a while, it is too much in flux, and send you a
recent poem that I am fond of, and that might be interesting with the other.
Please let me know what you think.

Franz Wright-I'd prefer you use this, if you want it. Ventriloquism is definitely out.

FW- Hope you got note about deleting “Ventriloquism” big problems there in the last segment
I sent a newish poem in its place. This new prose stuff is sometime very good, but very flawed.

January 21
Franz Wright-Tim, could you drop the "Lamp", which I still want to tinker with, and use
after all THIS version of that prose piece. Curious to know what you think!  I frankly just love it, compared to the other version. FW


F stares at the pill. F takes the pill.  Look, look.  F¹s in his right mind
again. And I¹m sure we are all very grateful to the medical-pharmaceutical
complex, and I¹d like you to join me in giving it a big hand.  Just hold on
there a minute you.  Rather, please pause for a moment, take a deep breath,
and take a minute to think about what you are doing; devote a brief period
of fair and objective consideration to what you have done. It¹s still just
conceivable, is it not, that for the time being and many hours to come,
there will be no turning back from having unlocked and opened wide the door
to your wrong mind. My God, I think you¹re right! Maybe we should opt for
staying right where we are.  Next time, I mean.  Next time we should really
try to put our heads together.  We should also stay in tonight.  I mean the
next time it¹s night.  Will it soon begin to brighten, or has darkness
fallen for good: is it evening or morning, to put it more elemental terms.
What do you say, we¹ll relinquish the reins, turn over the wheel, what
matter to whom!  What matter if the driver be unlicensed, high, and making a
stop now and then to relieve convenience store kids of the cash in their
registers. What matter if we are lovers who only yesterday were children,
writhing and entwined around each other like the slender caducean serpents,
never wondering to what purpose we¹re so weirdly being wielded, or by what.
But that was then. Why quit now, we¹ve come this far. The world¹s a
beautiful thing.  Dark as it is there.  Blind as we are.

F. Wright

January 22
Timothy Gager-I think it's fantastic! Of course I loved the other versions as well, but it's the writer that tinkers, that knows best. I think this is the best version so far, I really like the changes. 

Franz Wright-Let me know, please, if you plan to use it. I would prefer it over “Lamp” which needs more work.  Was there another you took?

On March 14, 2011 he received the proof of his work for the magazine

Franz Wright-It strange and kind of wonderful to see these particular pieces in print, hard to explain, you had to be there I guess. (I want to use that dumb phrase as a title!)’

Bio note? My latest full length collection WHEELING MOTEL will soon be released as a Knopf paperback. I recently had out a chapbook ENTRIES OF THE CELL, a single long poem which is also one of 4 sections in a book of poems called F , which Knopf will release in 2013. This fall, 2011, I will bring out with Knopf the best book I have ever written, KINDERTOTENWALD. (The first seven of the sixty-five prose poems plus one verse poem in homage to my magical mystery wife Elizabeth, are available as the chapbook 7PROSE. I will also this spring be having a chapbook from a Portland, Oregon press of my Buson translations...

Will let you know if I spot any errors, though I have a feeling just from glancing at them that there won’t be any.


Franz Wright-Hey man: I did discover one little omission (probably I sent it to you that way and it is my fault—I seem to get more of these errors as I get older—the spirit is stronger than ever, I am beginning to understand Yeats’ strange mournful poems about getting old—your mind and imagination on fire as never before, even in youth, yet here you are “fastened to a dying animal”.  Another poem I have loved all my life but only just recently have I felt, personally, its real meaning. By Salavatore Quasimodo, one of the so-called hermeticists, I believe. A Hermetic—I always loved that word, and I suppose at a time when the image reigned, a poem like this would have excited me profoundly, in an aesthetic sense though, not as now, in a very literal one which reminds me of the terrible moral and artistic error of loving words themselves more than what they stand for. It is the curse of our time. You know, I never had anything against the language poets, and read Silliman with some degree of abstract and somehow purely visual appreciating. But I cannot recall a single one of his lines! And this is certainly not true of the poets I most revere, the ones who seems to strive for the very most difficult thing to achieve in the writing of anything, but especially a poem:, simplicity, clarity, specificity. The ability finally to grasp that language is also not a mirror of reality—hardly!--or its shadow or anything of the kind: words used memorably are words used according to their own lights and physics—the study of prosody is important, the most elemental example of this is the rhyme, which Elizabeth Bishop called “mystical” (and I know why, it helps reveal what the next crucial word is and then somehow the right words  are drawn to it, revealed to me. This happens with the metrical sense of a line—as Frost noted, the rhythm demands certain words that suit it, and we have the eerie sense, when the writing goes well, that we are not using language, it is using us—and is without question more real than we are, we are ITS shadow if anything: it was here before we were and will be here when we are not. I still love the idea that a persons best and happiest and most intense mental or inner experience, his very best hours, could be contained, preserved forever when the correct words, the ones that startle even their author, are present.

Shut up, Franz.

The error is about two-thirds of the way down, on the right side, the phrase as it stands is “to put it more elemental terms”. It’s not the greatest phrase ever written, but it seems clear it is missing and “in” so that it reads “to put it in more elemental terms.”

Galway Kinnell once said to me that he published poems in journals in order to see more clearly its errors, weak points, absurdities, embarrassments—who would have thought language could be so unwieldy and require so many hours, constantly, to get even the simplest thing right! But you got to put them in.

Best, Franz

March 15 
Franz Wright-I also forgot to say those two chapbooks, Entries of the Cell & 7Prose, were published by Marick Press in Michigan. They do the most beautifully designed books, and the covers of the four they have done of mine (including The Catfish & Leave Me Hidden) are the most striking I have ever seen 

I wish I could send them to you and a number of other friends in poetry, and it bothers me that I can’t. They’re something. And the 7Prose cover is based on a visial artwork I made while painting , during the 7 years I was a volunteer facilitator at the Center For Grieving Children, in Arlington with young children, who often express metaphorically/visually what they have no words for. I suppose I knew that, but to sit right next to it and watch it happen is indescribably fascinating and moving. I thought sometimes, very young children and the dying are the only ones who see the world as it really is—we catch glimpses of it, when we’re lucking, but in the imminence of death you find you are seeing everything for the first time which can be disorienting & frightening , but I don’t know! Only in the most fleeting moments, or in dreams, am I returned a genuine sense of how I saw things then. But in my perceptions of the world,whether from instant to instant or during the long, seemingly endless instants, there is something—I almost hate to say it, or am afraid to say it—there is something so ravishingly significant and poignant radiating from the most commonplace things, I feel pulled is directions I would not be able or curious enough to will myself toward. And if I genuinely remain in the present moment at all times, and slow things down to a contemplative dimension, I can see the arc of things, the way afflictions and fears are opportunities, Doors you can go through or not, there are no other options—and procrastinating can be lethal—but I have never walked through them and regretted it—I have always felt the way the mind can heal just as a broken bone does, becoming stronger that normal at the place where the brokenness  was. I think there is a small elect at any given time who do not need it, in order to move closer to the condition of illumination in which we can actually  perceive the miraculous, the holy creative will reflected in things precisely as they are—in more western philosophical terms, we would ask (preferably in a state of awe), Why is there something rather than nothing? I have to get back to whatever I thought I was doing! Best, F

(later March 15) 
Franz Wright-I see a few other errors that I think are pretty obvious—can you tell me when/if you stumble on them and I will work on them. I have already considered the one which talks about the poems who have left “the subject self”--I mean the subjective self—behind...

But the subject self reminds me of a man who is visited in prison by a yellow light that plunging everyone into a sleep of paralysis, turned the bars of his  cell into gold, and leaving its door standing open--& the surprising percentage of prisoners who opt not for too huge and a too bright freedom but the cell-dimension of his universe where his expectations have become insanely small and fill him with an anguish and anxiety that are normal life to him.

Timothy Gager-I have always felt the way the mind can heal just as a broken bone does, becoming stronger that normal at the place where the brokenness  was.

Yes! Others feel this, many should work on believing it as it's so true. I saw you read once and you introduced a poem by saying that there was a time you couldn't write for a long time and you had to build up from your personal ground zero. There is a lot to be said for that, working hard to make that first step and then walking slowly before you can run...then finally, sprint. 

Franz Wright-Thank you. And I am glad you brought up this sentence as it is one with an error: after the comma, it is should read “becoming stronger than normal {not “that normal”) at the place where the brokenness was.

June 2012,(after reading at the release party of Printer's Devil Review)

Timothy Gager-

I'm filled with gratitude after hearing you and talking to you. Thank you so much for featuring at the party. Hope to see you again soon.


Franz Wright-Thanks Tim! We had a wonderful time. Ain't been out for a while, and I felt like I faced up to it pretty good, even though as usual I was quite frightened—even teaching a class can do that to me. (Even? It’s worse, when it’s bad—of course there is also the fact that there is no high like teaching a class—I’ve been privileged to have that experience. Keeep us posted! Heartening too see you thriving. F

May you rest, in peace but also, in joy, Franz


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