Charles Wright Named America's Next Poet Laureate

78-year-old Tennessee native and retired University of Virginia professor Charles Wright has been named America's new poet laureate. The Library of Congress announced their decision to appoint Wright on Thursday. Wright, who currently lives in Charlottesville, Va., will succeed Natasha Trethewey, and bring his southern literary charm to the world of American poetry.

The honor of United States Poet Laureate is one bestowed on a new celebrated poet each year for a single year term, which is occasionally extended to a second year. And the honor is a well-deserved one for Wright. The southern poet is a seasoned awarded recipient; for his powerful, evocative poetry, he has already been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Bollingen Prize, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, among other prestigious honors. Phew — that's a nice résumé. Despite his hefty prize collection, Mr. Wright is quite the humble artist. In a recent New York Times interview, he admitted that he was “very honored and flattered to be picked,” but surprised, and even a bit “confused” by the Library of Congress’s newest selection.

“I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” he continued. “But as soon as I find out, I’ll do it.” (For one, maybe pop a bottle of champagne, or, like, buy some new pens.)

Explaining his choice, librarian of Congress James Billington told the New York Times that Wright’s work bolsters “an infinite array of beautiful words reflected with constant freshness.” Billington selected Wright for his “combination of literary elegance and genuine humility,” he continued. “It’s just the rare alchemy of a great poet.”

Wright’s poetic career was sparked in the late 1950s thanks to the New Directions Edition of Ezra Pound's Selected Poems. While serving in the U.S. Amry, stationed in Italy, he picked up a copy and thereafter became "enveloped by the fog of poetry," he told the Times. Not long after, Wright attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop and, post-graduation, completed a Fulbright Fellowship in Italy.

His poetry, lyrical and meditative, fuses his Southern sensibilities with European modernism, and is quite different from that of his predecessor, Levine, who is known from his Whitman-like ruminations on the lives of Detroit’s working class. “Wright’s aesthetic is in some ways at odds with the populist moment that’s going on in American poetry,” Dana Gioia, a poet and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, told the New York Times. “But he is nonetheless the real thing.”

After nearly five decades of literary labor, Wright has impressively mastered the art of refining language, and has written more than two dozen collected works of poetry. Nature, American southern landscape, the functions of language, and the existence of God are themes that frequent his poetic catalog. And indeed, when it comes to describing nature, language, and poetry itself, he has a beautiful way with words. For those less familiar with Wright’s work, here are 16 beautiful, illustrious lines of poetry culled from his vast collection.

1. & 2. ON NATURE:

"Sunlight reloads and ricochets off the window glass, Behind the cloud scuts, inside the blue aorta of the skyThe River of Heaven flowsWith its barge of stars, waiting for darkness and a place to shine.”

—from "Looking Outside the Cabin Window, I Remember a Line by Li Po"

"The sky dogs are whimpering.Fireflies are dragging the hush of eveningup from the damp grass.Into the world's tumult, into the chaos of every day,Go quietly, quietly."

—from "After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard"

3. & 4. ON SUMMER:

"East of me, west of me, full summer. How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard. Birds fly back and forth across the lawn looking for home As night drifts up like a little boat."

—from "After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard"

"Dove-twirl in the tall grass.End-of-summer glaze next doorOn the gloves and split ends of the conked magnolia tree.Work sounds: truck back-up-beep, wood tin-hammer, cicada, fire horn."

—from "Chickamauga"

5. & 6. ON WINTER:

“Two electric wall heaters thermostat on and off, Ice one-hearted and firm in the mouth of the downspout Outside, snow stuff as a wedding dressCarelessly left unkempt all week in another room.”

—from "Thinking of David Summers at the Beginning of Winter"

“The huge snowflakes like soft squaresAlternately black and white in the flat light of the piazzaI vamp in the plush and gold of the mirrors, in love with the world.”

—from "Mid-Winter Snowfall in the Piazza Dante"

7. ON APPRECIATING NATURE:

"These days, I look at things, not through them,And sit down low, as far away from the sky as I can get.The reef of the weeping cherry flourishes coral,The neighbor's back porch light bulbs glow like anemones.Squid-eyed Venus floats forth overhead.This is the half hour, half-light, half-dark,when everything starts to shine out,And aphorisms skulk in the trees,Their wings folded, their heads bowed."

—from "Body and Soul II"

8. ON RAINWATER:

“If time is water, appearing and disappearingIn one heliotropic cycle, this rainThat sluices as through an hourglass Outside the window into the gutter and downspoutMeasures our nature and moves the body to music.”

—from “Cicada”

9. ON CICADAS:

“Noon in the early September rain. A cicada whines, his voiceStarting to drown through the rainy worldNo ripple of wind, no sound but his song of black wingsNo song but the song of his black wings.”

—from "Cicada"

10. & 11. ON LONELINESS AND SOLITUDE:

“I’m starting to feel like an old man

alone in a small boat In a snowfall of blossoms, Only the south wind for company, Drifting downriver, the beautiful costumes of spring Approaching me down the runway of all I’ve ever wished for."

—from "Littlefoot: A Poem"

“Summer hovers in flame around me. The overcast breaks like a bone above the Blue Ridge. A loneliness west of solitudeSplinters the landscapeuncomfortable as Braille.

—from "Tennessee Line"

12. ON LANDSCAPE AND LANGUAGE:

"The structure of landscape is infinitesimal,Like the structure of music,seamless, invisible.Even the rain has larger sutures.What holds the landscape together, and what holds music together,Is faith, it appears—faith of the eye, faith of the ear.Nothing like that in language,However, clouds chugging from west to east like blossomsBlown by the wind.April, and anything's possible."

—from "Body and Soul II"

13. ON HISTORY:

"History handles our past like spoiled fruit. Mid-morning, late-century lightcalicoed under the peach trees. Fingers us here. Fingers us here and here."

—from "Chickamauga"

14. ON THE POWER OF LANGUAGE:

"I used to think the power of words was inexhaustible, That how we said the worldwas how it was, and how it would be. I used to imagine that word-sway and word-thunder Would silence the Silence and all that, That worlds were the Word, That language could lead us inexplicably to grace, As though it were geographical. I used to think these things when I was young.I still do."

—from "Body and Soul II"

15. & 16. ON POETRY:

"Every true poem is a spark,and aspires to the condition of the original fireArising out of the emptiness.It is that same emptiness it wants to reignite.It is that same engendering it wants to be re-engendered by."

—from "Body and Soul II"

“We've all led raucous lives, some of them inside, some of them out. But only the poem you leave behind is what's important. Everyone knows this. The voyage into the interior is all that matters, Whatever your ride."

—from "Littlefoot: A Poem"

Image: Library of Congress