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 conclusively understand:
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,
and the creeks do.
The sunlight blurts its lucidity in the same way,
And the clouds, if clouds they really are,
still follow us,
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.