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Franz Wright
God’s Silence
Reviewed by: Kathryn Petruccelli © 2006

Alfred A. Knopf / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 1-400-04351-4
Publication Date: March 21, 2006
146 Pages ; $24
Date Reviewed: 04-28-06

Index: General Fiction  Non-Fiction  Fantasy

'God’s Silence' is Franz Wright’s first collection of poetry since his 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner, 'Walking to Martha’s Vineyard'. The book’s long opening piece, “East Boston, 1996,” sets itself against the rest of the collection — poems that don’t take more than a page or so, if that, to knock you down with their honest and fluid descriptions of a banal, even brutal, life splashing about in things sacred.

You might expect a work that comes out of a physical and spiritual redemption (Wright is recovering from many years of addiction and psychotic depression brought on by drugs and alcohol) to be full of praise and glory, triumphant lines harkening the trumpets of angels. But in this book, the poet seems still to be on his knees, just emerging from that dark tunnel and shading his eyes from the light. At times, he appears to want to scurry back in or at least to turn and retrieve others still stuck on the other side, a sentiment evident in the kinship of titles such as “Everyone’s Elegy” or in lines like And any chair/that’s empty here,/that’s someone/who is dying:/Find him. (“Alder Street”). There is also a willingness to expose the shortcomings of the self that adds credibility (and humor) to the speaker of these poems: Nobody has called for some time./(I was always the death of the party.) (“Progress”).

In “Why is the Winter Light” Wright is full of questions that he rehashes from many angles throughout the book: …Why/do I want to live/forever, and the next day/fervently wish I had died/when I was young? Why do I abruptly feel blessed?/And if (and it does) this city harbors/a single individual suffering/unendurably, am I/prepared to take his place?

Wright roots around in the human mind toppling furniture and fearlessly exposing what he finds, in all its paradoxes: And/everything alive/ (and everything’s/alive) is turning/ into something else/ as at the heart/ of some annihilating/or is it creating/fire (“The Fire”). Even his descriptions of the mind itself are plentiful and uniquely colorful: this three-pound lump/of sentient meat electrified (“The Hawk”).

Beyond its sometimes prayer-like quality, the sound play and musicality of the work is hard to miss. Parenthetical lines reminiscent of e.e. cummings add to a sense of nonchalance in these poems - as if the thought occurred to the poet and he jotted it down in just the way the reader finds it printed on the page. However, this writing is anything but haphazard. The reader is witnessing careful and well-crafted poetry carved out of talent, pain, and pulsing subject matter.

'God’s Silence' is quite substantial for a book of poems (140+ pages). It is a single-minded work, in a way many poetry collections cannot claim to be, so much so that there are times when the place of entry for the reader is unclear, where the poet’s ruminations leave one with an overabundance of guess work to perform, as in a few of Wright’s pieces dedicated to individuals. One may not want to take too much of this book in in one sitting. Swallowing one piece after another in too-quick succession could lessen the message this work has to deliver.

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