Franz Wright Raised Up

By Mary Karr
Sunday, March 23, 2008

Back when Franz Wright and I were in our 20s, teaching English in the academic ghetto around Boston, we both drank a lot and were known as serotonin-deprived individuals. For a while, Wright's phone message was, "At the sound of the gunshot, leave a message," which effectively terrified the casual caller into hanging up.

The poems he wrote then were darkly hilarious in their paranoia. Around the time Wright began reading (among others) the dark poems of Holocaust survivor-turned-suicide Paul Celan, he penned "Alcohol," in which liquor talks to its devotee -- "You do look a little ill./But we can do something about that, now./Can't we./The fact is you're a shocking wreck."

In "Entry in an Unknown Hand," the staccato rhythm of the prose stanzas mirrors the mindset of a self-anesthetized guy lifting his head to make self-consciously pained statements in mock-oracular tone:

And still nothing happens. I am not arrested.

By some inexplicable oversight

nobody jeers when I walk down the street.

I have been allowed to go on living in this

room. I am not asked to explain my presence


What posthypnotic suggestions were made; and

are any left unexecuted?

Why am I so distressed at the thought of taking

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company