New Poet Laureate Charles Wright








NPR Interview Highlights

On what led the 2014 Poet Laureate Charles Wright to begin writing poetry

Well, an inability to do anything else, among other things. I first started reading it seriously when I was in the Army, in Verona, Italy, and I was 23 years old, which is very late for a poet — most poets start about the age of 3, I’ve come to find out. And they have a whole stack of poems that they wrote before kindergarten. But that was not my case.

I did try to write stories in college, because I was interested in writing, and I was interested in the sound of language, but I was just no good at narrative and at fiction. When I discovered the lyric poem, that advanced not by narrative steps but by blocks and layers of imagery, I said, “Gee, I probably could do that. So let me try that.”

And that’s sort of what I’ve been doing, oh, for the last 50 years or so. And I feel very happy to have found it, because it’s obviously changed my life — and gave me something to do.

On whether his sources of inspiration have changed over the decades

Not really. It’s always been the idea of landscape that’s around me, that I look at; the idea of the music of language; and then the idea of God, or of that spiritual mystery that we doggedly follow, some of us, all of our days, and which we won’t find the answer to until it’s too late — or maybe it’s not too late. Maybe it’s just the start, I don’t know.

Hear The Poet Read His Work

Charles Wright reads ‘This World Is Not My Home, I’m Only Passing Through.’

In any case, that’s what I’ve always written about, and those three things are the meanings of my poems. The content changes — you know, what it’s about, this, that and the other — but the meaning has always been the same, the same thing I’ve been after. Ever since I was a tongue-tied altar boy in the Episcopal Church.

On what he wants his role as the poet laureate to be

I will not be an activist laureate, I don’t think, the way Natasha [Tretheway] was … and certainly not the way Billy Collins was, or Bob Hass, or Rita Dove, or Robert Pinsky, you know, they had programs. I have no program. I have been deprogrammed, as it were …

I’ll do what they ask me, and I’ll try to come up with some ideas about things, but I’m not going to actively go out and stir up the honey bucket, you know.






No darkness steps out of the woods,

no angel appears.


I listen, no word, I look, no thing.

Eternity must be hiding back there, it’s done so before.


I can wait, or I can climb,

Like Orpheus, through the slick organs of my body.


I guess I’ll wait,


at least until tomorrow night, or the day after.

And if the darkness does not appear,

that’s a long time.

And if no angel, it’s longer still.


“Across the Creek Is the Other Side of the River” from “Caribou” by Charles Wright. Copyright © 2014 by Charles Wright. Reprinted/Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux LLC.

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