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The Beforelife

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In this stunning collection, Franz Wright chronicles the journey back from a place of isolation and wordlessness. After a period when it seemed certain he would never write poetry again, he speaks with bracing clarity about the twilit world that lies between madness and sanity, addiction and recovery. Wright negotiates the precarious transition from illness to health in a state of skeptical rapture, discovering along the way the exhilaration of love--both divine and human--and finding that even the most battered consciousness can be good company.

Whether he is writing about his regret for the abortion of a child, describing the mechanics of slander ("I can just hear them on the telephone and keening all their kissy little knives"), or composing an ironic ode to himself ("To a Blossoming Nut Case"), Wright's poems are exquisitely precise. Charles Simic has characterized him as a poetic miniaturist, whose "secret ambition is to write an epic on the inside of a matchbook cover." Time and again, Wright turns on a dime in a few brief lines, exposing the dark comedy and poignancy of his heightened perception.

Here is one of the poems from the collection:

Description of Her Eyes

Two teaspoonfuls,
and my mind goes
everyone can kiss my ass now--

then it's changed,
I change my mind.

Eyes so sad, and infinitely kind.

From the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Jan 01, 2001 – The six books that Wright published in the '90s were more or less split between Carnegie-Mellon University and Oberlin College presses, with the latter publishing Ill Lit: Selected Poems to little fanfare in 1998. Clearly, however, Knopf editor Deborah Garrison was paying attention, having made Wright's 13th collection her first for the house since taking over for the late Harry Ford last year. The poems here slowly make explicit a psychologically acute back story, featuring Haldol, codeine, drinking and childhood abuse. (Wright's father was the late poet James Wright.) They depend almost completely on a pared-down, querulous, alternatingly grandiose and self-deflating depression-speak, which can be terrific when on, and much less impressive when even slightly off. A laconic rhythm drives self-revelations like "Not Now": "This mask/ this glove/ of human flesh// is all I have/ and that's not bad/ and that's not good// not good enough// not now." But too many of these short monologues can't sustain their self-reflection, as in "Primogeniture," which opens "My dad beat me with his belt/ for my edification" and closes "may my hand whither// may it forget how to write/ if I ever strike a child." Single lines and thoughts can be better than whole poems--"Dark the computer dies in its sleep"; " you are not/ going to hurt me again/ and I, I can't/ happen to you"; "I'll give you something to cry about"--giving this uneven collection depth and credibility.
The Beforelife
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  • $13.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Poetry
  • Published: Jan 23, 2001
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 96 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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