Charles Wright, Scar Tissue
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
2006, 73 pages, hardback, $22.00
charles wright has long been recognized as a modern-day poet-prophet,
a mystic trapped in a man’s body who shares his wisdom with
seemingly no struggle. In his latest collection, Scar
Tissue, Wright continues to build upon an already daunting
bibliography by combining the man-in-the-world qualities of
his early work with further development of the spirituality
he has fostered most furtively since his 1997 Pulitzer-winning
collection, Black Zodiac.
The poems of Scar Tissue
are instantly recognizable as later Charles Wright fare, with
long lines and regular use of indentation to punctuate unfinished
thought. Still in place is Wright’s familiarly understated
sense of humor, which sneaks up at moments when he seems to
be at his most sincere, announcing that “When the mind is
exalted, the body is lightened the Chinese say, / Or one of
them said.” This humorous sensibility allows the universe’s
grand comedy to emerge even when its confusions are most acute.
The ease with which his language fuses the perceived realities
of the world with the unknown, inexplicable, or merely quandary-causing
has acted for years as his strongest poetic tool, but one
at times wishes Wright would trust his line breaks as much
as he trusts his lines” while each line announces a resounding
and complete issue, the breaks tend to be syntactic and overly
reliant on commas. Despite this, Wright’s poems often resonate
with such knowing and beauty they lend only the nitpicker
room to complain.
In The New York Times,
reviewer Joel Brouwer chastised Scar Tissue for not
stating a direct thesis, and for the suggestion that “the
idea of horses [are] more important…than the animals themselves.”
But defiance of expectation and reluctance to reveal definition
are precisely why the collection succeeds: it is a study of
the difficulty of quantifying the physical world’s relation
to the world of the unseen. Wright recognizes this, acknowledging
that “Landscape was never a subject matter, it was a technique,
/ A method of measure, / a scaffold for structuring.” By adapting
an attitude which only at first glance seems reductionist,
Wright demonstrates his embrace of consciousness and language.
But this reassessment of nature’s stature is not belittlement,
as Wright’s scope of insight into the natural world serves
as one of his most consistently impressive attributes: seemingly
all of existence is on call for his contemplation, as the
mountains, birds, flowers, lakes, and animals which abound
in his poems serve to illuminate the particular gorgeousity
of even the most mundane of natural occurrences.
The title poems of the collection comprise its center thrust,
and bring home the human mind’s incongruous perception of
the world’s ways. Announcing that “Time, for us, is a straight
line, / on which we hang our narratives. / For landscape,
however, it all is a circling / From season to season, the
snake’s tail in the snake’s mouth,” Wright crystallizes the
temporal nature of human experience, while at the same moment
acknowledging that it is not necessarily the most accurate
manner of perception. By questioning the solidity of the apparently
solid and the ethereality of the apparently ethereal, Wright
seeks the zipper interlocking the seen and the unseen while
knowing true integration will remain in a place he can never
Our lives, it seems, are a memory
we had once in another place.
Or are they its metaphor?
The trees, if trees they are, seem the same,
the creeks do.
The sunlight blurts its lucidity in the same way,
And the clouds, if clouds they really are,
One after one, as they did in the old sky, in the old place.
With Scar Tissue, Charles Wright succeeds in discussing
the questions which no one can answer, and in this there is
a certain protection: he is not didactic, he is not overzealous,
and he will have a hard time finding anyone who can prove
him wrong. Ultimately, the grace of the collection is in its
honesty, its consistently surprising language, and its humane
modesty. Citing that “Whatever is insignificant has its own
strength,” Scar Tissue admits that the world is a confusing,
indefinite, and astounding place, and that to try to pinpoint
any of it is to commit an injustice.