what i am reading (notes & inspiration from robert wrigley)
Last night I finished Robert Wrigley‘s Lives of the Animals (Penguin Books, 2003). You can read “Kissing a Horse,” a poem from the collection, online. I picked up the book at my friend’s used book store (East Line Books) based strictly on its title; it is my first introduction to Wrigley’s work.
I recommend the book to anyone fussing with assemblage of a poetry collection. While the book is heavy in animal poems (um, hence the title!), Wrigley successfully integrates poems about people and their relationships and somehow manages to avoid the sense that, even when read all at once (or in two sittings as I did), one has experienced too many animal poems. I mention it because overwhelming someone with our themes and images is a risk, when we put together manuscripts, and Wrigley steers clear of this danger.
Early on I struggled with the read, with the poems themselves. Though they are all very accessible (that term that some bandy about as an insult but which I use with great respect and affection), they are grounded in a sensibility — living with horses, hunting deer, gutting and quartering an animal, shooting a sick dog instead of taking it to the vet — that is outside my day to day (though I have always lived in places connected with the give and take between people and animals — the Maine woods, for example, or the cattle farms in WV). But don’t get the wrong idea: Wrigley’s poems are not grotesque or blunt. They are the opposite. They are beautiful and sometimes even subtle.
They are also poems I would never attempt to write. Sometimes as poets we get stuck and only read poems that fit our personal writing style. It is good to read poems that are vastly different from our own. (Drink your Ovaltine, kids! Take your protein pill and put your helmet on!*)
Once I found my bearings, I was touched by his observations and descriptions (I have posted a couple of my favorite moments here; you’ll need the password — leave me a note here if you don’t have it).
In fact, I have given myself a writing assignment based a line that really resonates:
… all that is no longer there, those seeds of another hunger.
–Robert Wrigley’s “Bear Dreams”
Let’s hope my muse is back from summer vacation!