Sestets

THE POEMS in Wright’s astonishing nineteenth collection of poetry serve as a loyal lighthouse to the reader: a sure and steady beam that pulses, discovers, and searches out — all while allowing the reader that important and necessary pause to let his lines haunt and delight. When one thinks of “sestets,” six-lined poems, one would normally assume compression and density of taut lines. Not so: these expansive and gratifying poems often perform a sort of intimate “aside” to the reader. Wright breaks or “drops” the line part way into a singular line, as if to nudge the reader to pause for a bit and contemplate the themes of mortality and nature that often appear in these poems. What comes after the visual drop on the page is usually a somber reflection or a surprising twist on the previous image. The poems are almost bursting with notions of what it means to be at once at odds and in harmony with nature, and the visual drop deftly allows for this juxtaposition. Consider: “This is the light its wings dissolve in / if it ever gets out from underground.”

Edward Hirsch once noted that Wright “is a poet of lyric impulses, structuring his poems associatively rather than narratively, and has created a poetics of luminous moments.” The luminous poems in this new collection have an added element of play and wordplay, even some colloquial dazzle, as in the poem, “Anniversary II”:

“. . . Fuzzy and herky-kerky / . . . Crack in the bulbous sky the moth is yo-yoed up to.” Wright further displays his sense of humor in his poem titles as well: “When the Horses Gallop Away From Us, It’s a Good Thing,” “Tutti-Fruitti,” or my favorite, “Time is a Child-Biting Dog.” This element of wit is what makes these meditations on nature unique: the speaker never seems to take himself too seriously, allowing the reader to trust in this dark and often delightful world.

Perhaps the most significant feature of this collection is this very combination of wryly elegant inquiries with a small dose of dark humor. This heady recipe makes for a particularly engaging speaker who often offers edifying glimpses into the intricacies of human relationships, while imploring the reader to take note of her natural surroundings, else she miss seeing (and hearing) how the “heart of the world lies open, leached and ticking with sunlight . . . .” Even when Wright describes the cruelties of nature, the poems have an enchanting and clarifying feel to them. Sestets is a collection for the naturalist, and for the one who has love and the one who has had love taken away — for anyone who is drawn to the open promise of a land where “someone will take our hand, / someone will give us refuge.”

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a professor of English in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program. Her newest collection of poems is OCEANIC, winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). With Ross Gay, she co-wrote the chapbook, LACE & PYRITE, a collaboration of nature poems. She is also the author of a forthcoming book of illustrated nature essays from Milkweed Editions in 2020. She is the poetry editor of Orion and her poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry 2015 & 2018 series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, and Tin House. Her honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pushcart Prize.