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The Beforelife

The Beforelife by Franz Wright
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In this stunning collection, Franz Wright chronicles the journey back from a place of isolation and wordlessness. After a period when it seemed certain he would never write poetry again, he speaks with bracing clarity about the twilit world that lies between madness and sanity, addiction and recovery. Wright negotiates the precarious transition from illness to health in a state of skeptical rapture, discovering along the way the exhilaration of love--both divine and human--and finding that even the most battered consciousness can be good company.

Whether he is writing about his regret for the abortion of a child, describing the mechanics of slander ("I can just hear them on the telephone and keening all their kissy little knives"), or composing an ironic ode to himself ("To a Blossoming Nut Case"), Wright's poems are exquisitely precise. Charles Simic has characterized him as a poetic miniaturist, whose "secret ambition is to write an epic on the inside of a matchbook cover." Time and again, Wright turns on a dime in a few brief lines, exposing the dark comedy and poignancy of his heightened perception.

Here is one of the poems from the collection:

Description of Her Eyes

Two teaspoonfuls,
and my mind goes
everyone can kiss my ass now--

then it's changed,
I change my mind.

Eyes so sad, and infinitely kind.

From the Hardcover edition.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; February 2010
96 pages; ISBN 9780307554574
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: The Beforelife
Author: Franz Wright
"Empty Cathedral"

There’s this pew
at the back
that’s been
for you
all your life, like your death bed.
Christ Criminal
above, eyes and mouth
closed suggesting
before you too enter
the third person, light
one candle
for the here,
will you.


"Thanks Prayer at the Cove"

A year ago today
I was unable to speak
one syntactically coherent
thought let alone write it down: today
in this dear and absurdly allegorical place
by your grace
I am here
and not in that graveyard, its skyline
visible now from the November leaflessness
and I am here to say
it's 5 o'clock, too late to write more
(especially for the one whose eyes
are starting to get dark), the single
dispirited swan out on the windless brown
transparent floor floating
gradually backward
no this is what I still
can see, white
as a joint in a box of little cigars-
and where is the mate
Lord, it is almost winter in the year
2000 and now I look up to find five
practically unseeable mallards at my feet
they have crossed
nearly standing on earth they're so close
looking up to me
for bread-
that's what my eyes of flesh see (barely)
but what I wished to say
is this, listen:
a year ago today
I found myself riding the subway psychotic
(I wasn't depressed, I wanted to rip my face off)
unable to write what I thought, which was nothing
though I tried though I finally stopped trying and
looked up
at the face of the man
directly across from me, and it began
to melt before my eyes
and in an instant it was young again
the face he must have had
once when he was five
and in an instant it happened again only this
it changed to the face of his elderly
corpse and back in time
it changed
to his face at our present
moment of time's flowing and then
as if transparently
superimposed I saw them all at once
OK I was insane but how insane
can someone be I thought, I did not
know you then
I didn't know you were there God
(that's what we call you, grunt grunt)
as you are at every moment
everywhere of what we call
the future and the past
And then I tried once more
I focused
on another's face, no need to describe it
there is only one
these scary and extremely
realistic rubber masks
and there is as I also know now
by your grace one
and only one person on earth
beneath a certain depth
the terror and the love
are one, like hunger, same
in everyone
and it happened again, das Unglück geschah
you might say nur mir allein it happened
no matter who I looked at
for maybe five minutes long enough
long enough
this secret trinity
I saw, the others
will say I am making it up
as if that mattered
I make up nothing
not one word.

From the Hardcover edition.
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