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Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil
Copper Canyon, $15 (paper)
Selected from over 20 years of twangy, cantankerous, and ecstatic occasional writing, C.D.Wright’s first book of (mostly) nonfiction prose testifies to the poet’s belief that “Poetry seems especially like nothing else so much as itself. Poetry is not like, it is the very lining of the inner life.” Often using the vocabulary of faith to explore and illuminate the topic of poetry, Cooling Time possesses the moral integrity of a lived vigil—best defined here as “a devotional watch”—whose object is “the elusory direction of freedom” that Wright considers essential to poetic practice. “The radical of poetry,” she writes, “lies not in the resolution of doubts but in their proliferation, in an ongoing interrogation with what Roberto Juarroz called the poet’s one untranslatable song.” Wright urges writers to remain open to manifold trajectories and never to settle, for example, on either lyric or narrative alone. Accordingly, CoolingTime and its author resist identification with any one aesthetic school: “none of the poetries I admire stick to their labels, native or adopted ones. Rather they are vagrant in their identifications.” Wright maintains that “poets can still be counted on to stand nearly as one against the abjectification of contemporary experience,” and her dedication to the work of other writers and artists attests to her vision of community built on shared sensibility, from intimate companions Frank Stanford and Forrest Gander to figures as various as W.S. Merwin, Besmilr Brigham, Erin Mouré, and photographers Deborah Luster and Denny Moers. Butit’s with her remarkable first mentor, “The Unappeasable Mrs. Vittitow,” that the reader senses the strongest consonance with Wright’s own character. “A radical, an upstart, and an autodidact,” a Catholic and early civil-rights advocate, Mrs.Vittitow is more than a literary guru—she is a worldview unto herself, one in which regional identity, spirituality, and opposition to mainstream American politics and mores combine to propose a model of what Bin Ramke in a recent poem calls “how to stand on the world,” which is exactly what Cooling Time does for us.
Brian Teare, a 2020 Guggenheim fellow, is the author of six critically acclaimed books, most recently Companion Grasses, The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, and Doomstead Days, winner of the Four Quartets Prize. His honors include the Birittingham Prize and Lambda Literay and Publishing Triangle Awards, as well as fellowships from the NEA, the Pew Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony. After over a decade of teaching and writing in the San Francisco Bay Area, and eight years in Philadelphia, he’s now Associate Professor at the University of Virginia, and lives in Charlottesville, where he makes books by hand for his micropress, Albion Books.
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