Cover image for Negative blue : selected later poems
Negative blue : selected later poems
Wright, Charles, 1935-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, [2000]

Physical Description:
ix, 206 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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PS3573.R52 N44 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The culmination of the cycle that won Wright the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award
"Time will append us like suit coats left out overnight"
"On a deck chair, loose change dead weight in the right pocket, "
"Silk handkerchief limp with dew, "
" sleeves in a slow dance with the wind."
"And love will kill us--"
"Love, and the winds from under the earth"
" that grind us to grain-out."
--from "Still Life with Spring and Time to Burn"
When Charles Wright published "Appalachia" in 1998, it marked the completion of a nine-volume project, of which James Longenbach wrote in the "Boston Review," "Charles Wright's trilogy of trilogies--call it 'The Appalachian Book of the Dead'--is sure to be counted among the great long poems of the century."
The first two of those trilogies were collected in "Country Music" (1982) and "The World of the Ten Thousand Things" (1990). Here Wright adds to his third trilogy ("Chickamauga " 1995], "Black Zodiac" 1997], and "Appalachia " 1998]) a section of new poems that suggest new directions in the work of this sensuous, spirit-haunted poet.

Author Notes

Poet Charles Wright was born on August 25, 1935 in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee. He earned a B. A. at Davidson College and then entered the army. Upon his exit from the service, Wright earned a M. A. at the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop.

Wright is currently a Souder Family Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

Wright won the Pulitzer Prize and The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his work Black Zodiac. Wright has also received the National Book Award for Country Music: Selected Early Poems, and the PEN Translation Prize for The Storm and Other Poems. In addition to the above awards, Wright has also received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit Medal and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Three selected volumes by three celebrated American poets. Kinnell's Selected Poems (1992) won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Here he has revisited and revised old works and brought the collection forward in time to include poems from Imperfect Thirst (1994), and once again Kinnell's work makes for a sumptuous reading experience. He draws from the tabernacle of the earth and the pages of the Bible, and his poems ring with a bell-like timbre. Kinnell loves the sensuality of poetry itself and prefers to dwell within a cocoon of solitude, but when the suffering of others makes itself known, he responds with all the compassion the long practice of open-hearted observation and description teach. The popularity of Kleinzahler's recent work, including Green Sees Things in Waves (1998), has inspired the resurrection of his long out-of-print early poems. In introducing this impressive collection, he recounts his youthful certainty regarding his calling and the "excitement, of a neuromuscular sort, almost sexual," that the manipulation of words brought. Kleinzahler's willingness to throw himself into the life of a jack-of-all-trades and a wandering poet energizes his ebullient and inventive poems in which he frolics both sensuously and intellectually, finding the tangible in the abstract and the fanciful in the concrete. Selected poems from Chickamauga (1995), Appalachia (1998), and Black Zodiac (1997), which garnered the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry, are accompanied in this solid collection by a suite of Wright's new poems, which are presented under the heading "The North American Bear." Wright is revered, and rightly so, for his philosophical yet unassuming, classically lyrical yet casual and bluesy, musings. In his latest work, he reports, once again, on his nighttime, backyard patrols, his ritualized stargazing and season tracking, crooning his unending love song to Earth life and all that surrounds us, so vast and unknown, so stirring and evocative. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

The widely esteemed Virginia-based poet collects a decade's worth of striking description and laid-back meditation in this sample of work from his last three books: the energetic Chickamauga, the introspective (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) Black Zodiac and the elegiac Appalachia. Leaping and skating among apothegms and visual intricacies, Wright's skeins of beautiful lines offer the shifting emotional textures of his day-to-day thought and experience: "Into the world tumult," he advises his poems, "into the chaos of every day,/ Go quietly, quietly." "Landscape's a lever of transcendence," he writes, though elsewhere he insists he's just setting down impressions--"Journal and landscape I tried to resuscitate both." Wright's "verbal amulets" chronicle the world's imperviousness to our words for it, and our stubborn and lambent need to find those words--one description of the Blue Ridge or the Adriatic claims to respond to an ancient Chinese poet, the next to a contemporary philosopher. Wright's power lies less in whole poems than in lines within them: those linear strengths owe something to Ezra Pound, and something more to the antiphonal balances of the Psalms. Wright ends the volume with seven new short poems: sometimes lugubrious, sometimes rapturous, they focus more than ever on aging and loss--"time, the true dissolver, eats away at our fingertips." "I've talked about one thing for thirty years,/ and said it time and again," another new poem declares; in an important sense all Wright's recent career makes up one poem, a continual, often compelling exploration of seeing, thinking and the dialectic between them--at one moment Wright is declaring "Whatever has been will be again,/ unaltered, ever returning"; at the next he's drawn to the "Serenity of the rhododendrons, pink and white." (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Excerpt SITTING OUTSIDE AT THE END OF AUTUMN Three years ago, in the afternoons,                          I used to sit back here and try To answer the simple arithmetic of my life, But never could figure it-- This object and that object Never contained the landscape                               nor all of its implications, This tree and that shrub Never completely satisfied the sum or quotient I took from or carried to,                             nor do they do so now, Though I'm back here again, looking to calculate, Looking to see what adds up. Everything comes from something,                        only something comes from nothing, Lao Tzu says, more or less. Eminently sensible, I say, Rubbing this tiny snail shell between my thumb and two fingers. Delicate as an earring,                         it carries its emptiness like a child It would be rid of. I rub it clockwise and counterclockwise, hoping for anything Resplendent in its vocabulary or disguise-- But one and one make nothing, he adds,                                         endless and everywhere, The shadow that everything casts. READING LAO TZU AGAIN IN THE NEW YEAR Snub end of a dismal year,                             deep in the dwarf orchard, The sky with its undercoat of blackwash and point stars, I stand in the dark and answer to My life, this shirt I want to take off,                                    which is on fire ... Old year, new year, old song, new song,                                          nothing will change hands Each time we change heart, each time Like a hard cloud that has drifted all day through the sky Toward the night's shrugged shoulder                                       with its epaulet of stars. * * * Prosodies rise and fall.                           Structures rise in the mind and fall. Failure reseeds the old ground. Does the grass, with its inches in two worlds, love the dirt? Does the snowflake the raindrop? I've heard that those who know will never tell us,                                                    and heard That those who tell us will never know. Words are wrong. Structures are wrong.                       Even the questions are compromise. Desire discriminates and language discriminates: They form no part of the essence of all things:                                                  each word Is a failure, each object We name and place                    leads us another step away from the light. Loss is its own gain.                        Its secret is emptiness. Our images lie in the flat pools of their dark selves Like bodies of water the tide moves. They move as the tide moves.                               Its secret is emptiness. * * * Four days into January,                          the grass grows tiny, tiny Under the peach trees. Wind from the Blue Ridge tumbles the hat Of daylight farther and farther                                  into the eastern counties. Sunlight spray on the ash limbs.                                   Two birds Whistle at something unseen, one black note and one interval. We're placed between now and not-now,                                         held by affection, Large rock balanced upon a small rock. UNDER THE NINE TREES IN JANUARY Last night's stars and last night's wind Are west of the mountains now, and east of the river. Here, under the branches of the nine trees,                                  how small the world seems. Should we lament, in winter, our shadow's solitude, Our names spelled out like snowflakes? Where is it written, the season's decrease diminishes me? Should we long for stillness,                                a hush for the trivial body Washed in the colors of paradise, Dirt-colored water-colored match-flame-and-wind-colored? As one who has never understood the void,                                            should I Give counsel to the darkness, honor the condor's wing? Should we keep on bowing to                           an inch of this and an inch of that? The world is a handkerchief. Today I spread it across my knees. Tomorrow they'll fold it into my breast pocket,                                          white on my dark suit. AFTER READING WANG WEI, I GO OUTSIDE TO THE FULL MOON Back here, old snow like lace cakes, Candescent and brittle now and then through the tall grass. Remorse, remorse , the dark drones. The body's the affliction, No resting place in the black pews of the winter trees, No resting place in the clouds. Mercy upon us, old man, You in the China dust, I this side of my past life, Salt in the light of heaven. Isolate landscape. World's grip. The absolute, as small as a poker chip, moves off, Bright moon shining between pines . EASTER 1989 March is the month of slow fire,                                  new grasses stung with rain, Cold-shouldered, white-lipped. Druidic crocus circles appear Overnight, morose in their purple habits,                                            wet cowls Glistening in the cut sun. * * * Instinct will end us. The force that measles the peach tree                                        will divest and undo us. The power that kicks on                          the cells in the lilac bush Will tumble us down and down. Under the quince tree, purple cross points, and that's all right For the time being,                     the willow across the back fence Menacing in its green caul. When the full moon comes                          gunning under the cloud's cassock Later tonight, the stations Will start to break forth like stars, their numbers flashing and then some. Belief is a paltry thing                           and will betray us, soul's load scotched Against the invisible. We are what we've always thought we were-- Peeling the membrane back,                           amazed, like the jonquil's yellow head Butting the nothingness--                           in the wrong place, in the wrong body. The definer of all things                           cannot be spoken of. It is not knowledge or truth. We get no closer than next-to-it. Beyond wisdom, beyond denial,                                 it asks us for nothing, According to Pseudo-Dionysus, which sounds good to me. * * * Nubbly with enzymes, The hardwoods gurgle and boil in their leathery sheaths. Flame flicks the peony's fuse. Out of the caves of their locked beings,                                          fluorescent shapes Roll the darkness aside as they rise to enter the real world. READING RORTY AND PAUL CELAN ONE MORNING IN EARLY JUNE In the skylight it's Sunday, A little aura between the slats of the Venetian blinds. Outside the front window,                           a mockingbird balances Gingerly on a spruce branch. At the Munch house across the street, Rebecca reads through the paper, then stares at her knees On the front porch.                     Church bell. Weed-eater's cough and spin. From here, the color of mountains both is and is not, Beginning of June, Haze like a nesting bird in the trees, The Blue Ridge partial,                         then not partial, Between the staff lines of the telephone wires and pine tips That sizzle like E.T.'s finger. Mid-nineties, and summer officially still three weeks away. * * * If truth is made and not found,                                 what an amazing world We live in, more secret than ever And beautiful of access. Goodbye, old exits, goodbye, old entrances, the way Out is the way in at last, Two-hearted sorrow of middle age,                                   substanceless blue, Benevolent anarchy to tan and grow old with. If sentences constitute                          everything we believe, Vocabularies retool Our inability to measure and get it right, And languages don't exist. That's one theory. Here's another: Something weighs on our shoulders And settles itself like black light                                      invisibly in our hair ... * * * Pool table. Zebra rug.                        Three chairs in a half circle. Buck horns and Ca' Paruta. Gouache of the Clinchfield station in Kingsport, Tennessee. High tide on the Grand Canal,                               San Zeno in late spring Taken by "Ponti" back in the nineteenth century. I see the unknown photographer                          under his dark cloth. Magnesium flash. Silence. I hear what he has to say. June 3rd, heat like Scotch tape on the skin, Mountains the color of nothing again,                                       then something through mist. In Tuscany, on the Sette Ponti, Gròpina dead-ends Above the plain and the Arno's marauding cities, Columns eaten by darkness, Cathedral unsentenced and plugged in To what's-not-there,                      windows of alabaster, windows of flame. AFTER READING TU FU, I GO OUTSIDE TO THE DWARF ORCHARD East of me, west of me, full summer. How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard. Birds fly back and forth across the lawn                                          looking for home As night drifts up like a little boat. Day after day, I become of less use to myself. Like this mockingbird,                        I flit from one thing to the next. What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four? Tomorrow is dark.                   Day-after-tomorrow is darker still. The sky dogs are whimpering. Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening                                            up from the damp grass. Into the world's tumult, into the chaos of every day, Go quietly, quietly. THINKING OF DAVID SUMMERS AT THE BEGINNING OF WINTER December, five days till Christmas,                                     mercury red-lined In the low twenties, glass throat Holding the afternoon half-hindered And out of luck.               Goodbye to my last poem, "Autumn Thoughts." Two electric wall heaters                        thermostat on and off, Ice one-hearted and firm in the mouth of the downspout Outside, snow stiff as a wedding dress Carelessly left unkempt                         all week in another room. Everything we desire is somewhere else,                                      day too short, Night too short, light snuffed and then relit, Road salted and sanded down, Sky rolling the white of its eye back                                    into its head. Reinvention is what we're after,                                  Pliny's outline, Living in history without living in the past Is what the task is, Quartering our desire,                     making what isn't as if it were. CICADA All morning I've walked about,                                opening books and closing books, Sitting in this chair and that chair, Steady drip on the skylight,                           steady hum of regret. Who listens to anyone? Across the room, bookcases,                             across the street, summer trees. Hear what the book says:                          This earthly light Is a seasoning, tempting and sweet and dangerous. Resist the allurements of the eye. Feet still caught in the toils of this world's beauty,                                                        resist The gratifications of the eye. * * * Noon in the early September rain. A cicada whines,                  his voice Starting to drown through the rainy world, No ripple of wind,                    no sound but his song of black wings, No song but the song of his black wings. Such emptiness at the heart,                              such emptiness at the heart of being, Fills us in ways we can't lay claim to, Ways immense and without names,                                 husk burning like amber On tree bark, cicada wind-bodied, Leaves beginning to rustle now                                   in the dark tree of the self. * * * If time is water, appearing and disappearing In one heliotropic cycle,                           this rain That sluices as through an hourglass Outside the window into the gutter and downspout, Measures our nature                        and moves the body to music. The book says, however,                      time is not body's movement But memory of body's movement. Time is not water but the memory of water: We measure what isn't there. We measure the silence.                         We measure the emptiness. TENNESSEE LINE Afternoon overcast the color of water                                    smoothed by clouds That whiten where they enter the near end of the sky. First day of my fifty-fifth year, Last week of August limp as a frayed rope in the trees, Yesterday's noise a yellow dust in my shirt pocket Beneath the toothpick,                        the .22 bullet and Amitone. Sounds drift through the haze, The shadowless orchard, peach leaves dull in the tall grass, No wind, no bird shudder. Green boat on the red Rivanna.                                Rabbit suddenly in place By the plum tree, then gone in three bounds. Downshift of truck gears. * * * In 1958, in Monterey, California, I wrote a journal of over one hundred pages About the Tennessee line, About my imagined unhappiness,                                and how the sun set like a coffin Into the grey Pacific. How common it all was.                        How uncommon I pictured myself. Memento scrivi , skull-like and word-drunk,                                       one hundred fourteen pages Of inarticulate self-pity Looking at landscape and my moral place within it, The slurry of words inexorable and dark, The ethical high ground inexorable and dark I droned from             hoping for prescience and a shibboleth ... * * * I remember the word and forget the word                                         although the word Hovers in flame around me. Summer hovers in flame around me. The overcast breaks like a bone above the Blue Ridge. A loneliness west of solitude Splinters into the landscape                              uncomforting as Braille. We are our final vocabulary,                              and how we use it. There is no secret contingency. There's only the rearrangement, the redescription Of little and mortal things. There's only this single body, this tiny garment Gathering the past against itself,                                 making it otherwise. LOOKING OUTSIDE THE CABIN WINDOW, I REMEMBER A LINE BY LI PO The river winds through the wilderness , Li Po said            of another place and another time. It does so here as well, sliding its cargo of dragon scales To gutter under the snuff                        of marsh willow and tamarack. Mid-morning, Montana high country, Jack snipe poised on the scarred fence post, Pond water stilled and smoothed out, Swallows dog-fighting under the fast-moving storm clouds. Expectantly empty, green as a pocket, the meadow waits For the wind to rise and fill it,                                first with a dark hand Then with the rain's loose silver A second time and a third                           as the day doles out its hours. Sunlight reloads and ricochets off the window glass. Behind the cloud scuts,                         inside the blue aorta of the sky, The River of Heaven flows With its barge of stars,                    waiting for darkness and a place to shine. We who would see beyond seeing                   see only language, that burning field. MID-WINTER SNOWFALL IN THE PIAZZA DANTE Verona, late January ...                          Outside the calfè, The snow, like papier-mâché, settles Its strips all over Dante's bronze body, and holds fast. Inside, a grappa In one hand, a double espresso in the other, I move through the room, slowly,                               from chessboard to chessboard. It's Tuesday, tournament night. Dante's statue, beyond the window, grows larger and whiter Under the floodlights                    and serious Alpine snowfall. In here I understand nothing,                            not the chess, not the language, Not even the narrow, pointed shoes the men all wear. It's 1959. It's ten-thirty at night. I've been in the country for one week. The nineteenth-century plush                              on the chairs and loveseats Resonates, purple and gold. Three boards are in play in the front room, one in the bar. My ignorance is immense,                          as is my happiness. Caught in the glow of all things golden And white, I think, at twenty-three, my life has finally begun. At a side table, under The tulip-shaped lamps, a small group drinks to a wedding: " Tutti maschi , "the groom toasts,                                            and everyone lifts his full glass. The huge snowflakes like soft squares Alternately black and white in the flat light of the piazza, I vamp in the plush and gold of the mirrors,                                           in love with the world. That was thirty years ago. I've learned a couple of things since then                                            not about chess Or plush or all things golden and white. Unlike a disease, whatever I've learned Is not communicable.                      A singular organism, It does its work in the dark. Anything that we think we've learned,                                       we've learned in the dark. If there is one secret to this life, it is this life. This life and its hand-me-downs,                                  bishop to pawn 4, void's gambit. Copyright © 2000 Charles Wright. All rights reserved.