Saturday, January 23, 2010

Review of C.D. Wright’s “Like the Sun Down There” from Rising, Falling, Hovering

C.D. Wright’s thirteenth book is a collection of poems that addresses the concerns of the Bush years: Iraq, global trade, immigration, the “occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania” themselves, Hurricane Katrina, consumerism, and relationships. Each poem in this collection links together, repeating characters, refrains, and scenes. Sometimes Wright even repeats poems in almost their entirety. The following is one of my favorite poems from Rising, Falling, Hovering. Granted, this book features two long poems (one thirty-three pages and another twenty pages), so the blog-space prevents the inclusion of those beauties.

Like the Sun Down There

By C.D. Wright from Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon Press, 2008)

(*Note: These lines are double-spaced in her book.)

Early in the day they were driving past the small vineyard.

They were looking forward to walking around in another town.

They could find a wrought-iron bench in a garden of splashy flowers.

They might find a swimming hole.

Just beyond the vineyard they passed a dog standing against the body of a dog.

They passed a number of one-story houses sprouting rebar from the rooftops.

A man balancing bundles on his handlebars.

Plastic bags caught in organ cactus.

The town was twisted and steep.

The streets cobbled and shops full of punched tin.

They sat on a wall and watched children play in the dust.

At the waterworks women were washing mounds of colored clothing.

A man walking his hog by a length of hemp knocked on a door in an exterior wall and was let in.

They walked down some steps into a candlelit room.

The closeness, the warmth, the voices of people eating together.

The sound of plates slowly being stacked and a bird in the kitchen.

The disconsolate strain of a traditional song.

The full and weary ride home.

Just before the vineyard

the lights of the car picked out the standing dog, the body of the other one.

With this poem’s listing method and sparse lines, I feel compelled to do away with long paragraphs and list what I admired about the poem.

*I adore the details. Nothing is overwritten. It is stated. Unbeautified. Quirky. Wright gives the detail and steps out of the way such as this complete stanza composed of only six words: “Plastic bags caught in organ cactus.”

*The effect of these details is partly created from the lack of editorializing. (There is great restraint in these long lines—which is an unusual coupling. Long lines seem to encourage the dumping of exposition.) In the beginning, we know “they were looking forward” to exploring this new town. And then the only other bit of editorializing comes at the end with the song described as “disconsolate” and the ride home described as “full and weary”. That is all.

*The details (and poem) work on many levels, but tone is key and partly created from this lack of editorializing and singular stanzas. Loneliness is what I feel. Loneliness while among other people specifically. That sense of emptiness as the couple travels, looking for meaning, for experience, for the exotic…. With this tone, their travel leaves the aftertaste of yet another type of consumerism that leaves one empty.

*And speaking of that emptiness, some key word choices that would be crossed out in a workshop work beautifully here. For example, the steps are “some” steps, making it all seem a bit disconnected from the couple, like this is just another staircase that they will climb and forget. But the best moment of vague wording comes at the end when the image of the dog is repeated. On first reference, the dog is presented like this: “Passed a dog standing against the body of a dog”. Then the poem closes with: “The standing dog, the body of the other one.” Someone might say, “Why say ‘of the other one’? That’s abstract. Not specific.” This second description of the dog is much more threatening, making me think the dog is dead. With the word choice of “standing,” it references the cliché of “the last man standing.” But also what makes me feel that the image is much darker the second time around is how this dog is no longer called a dog. Now it is “the body of another” which is a phrasing used to distance ourselves from someone’s death. It is also one of those many glossy phrases of wartime that Wright calls our attention to throughout the book such as dead soldiers called “forever young” on the news. Also, “a” dog is now “the” dog which does tell us this is the same set of dogs the couple saw. But it looks different to them now.


  1. Thanks for the insight. I sometimes struggle with C.D. Wright's work, but your explication opened the poem up for me in a new way.

  2. I had the opportunity to require this for my poetry workshop after Squaw Valley(which was great because after being unable to buy the book I received a signed review copy!). It's a great collection and the kids really liked it by the time we got through with the quarter. What strikes me most about the book was the sparseness of landscape juxtaposed with the details, a meta poetics illuminated by the first poem "Re: Happiness, in pursuit thereof":

    We are running on Aztec time,
    fifth and final cycle. Eyes switch on/off.
    We would be mercurochrome to one another
    bee balm or chamomile. We should be concrete,
    glass, and spandex. We should be digital or,
    at least, early. Be ivory-billed. Invisible
    except to the most prepared observer.
    We will be stardust. Ancient tailings
    of nothing. Elapsed breath. No,
    we must first be ice. Be nails. Be teeth.
    Be lightning.

    Here we see the presence of an analog existential perspective juxtaposed with the modern digital, the eyes which "switch on/off" instead of blink. The energy of life, of living, presented as elemental object-image, ambiguous body part/tool object-image, body part object image, pure energy "Be lightning." The inverse of ascent, the downward fall of positive electrons. This also serving as a striking similarity to the airplane notations in each of the three segments of poems separated by the two singular section titles "Rising, Falling, Hovering." And also the connection to class movement located in the specific geographies of Mexico and the US.

    And so we sit alongside our affluent narrator witnessing the accumulation of details "Invisible / except to the most prepared observer." And realize the wealth of knowledge and affluence (ie digital consumer products) and the dystopic beauty, those "Plastic bags caught in organ cactus," in the desolation and poverty they're built upon.

  3. Thank you for that comment. That one sentence of yours captures the tone of this collection well: "What strikes me most about the book was the sparseness of landscape juxtaposed with the details, a meta poetics illuminated by the first poem "Re: Happiness, in pursuit thereof." And your insight into the airplane moments helped me gain an understanding as to why they are repeated. Good stuff.