I remember very clearly when I first read C. D. Wright. A dim winter afternoon in Edmonton, 2005, in Audrey’s Books on Jasper Avenue. Browsing the poetry section, I picked out Deepstep Come Shining. Knew I’d buy it before finishing the random page I’d opened it to but kept reading, forward and backward through the book, reading peaches and Spanish moss and ice-cold beer, overheating in my parka and boots. I felt possessed.
The spell of that book compelled me (and still does) even as I admired and was intrigued by the technique of its composition, by an observant and deeply intuitive sensibility expressed with passionate discipline and dynamic intelligence. In its language units and forms, the text goes looking, always following some lead, inquiring after a rustling up ahead. I sought out her other books, having found one of my lifelong companions. I emulated her, mimicked her, hit the wall of not being her. Because who else writes vulnerability with such immediacy, insistent on its complexity so its strength speaks? Puts social justice at the table with vernacular’s dark and accurate wit and a spirit of experiment? Her poems draw from the home well and travel with that provision wherever they damn well please. Ecstatic and pragmatic. Grounded and restless. Uncompromising, with a survivor’s humour.
Grief, respect, sensual joy, anger, fear, hope—always and, not or. Often, her lines are individuals, each with autonomy and backbone. Together they’re like the voices of a chorus—a little raucous—notes of a chord, elements of an environment. C. D. wrote in Cooling Time that we talk about music in poetry but not so much about its “physicality.” This presence in her work is why it’s such fine company, a comfort even when speaking of difficult things. You don’t just read a C. D. Wright poem. You hear it—birdsong, air brake, door hinge, the thought and the sound around it. You breathe its magnolia, cigarette smoke, local water. You live in it, or it in you, you feel less alone. In the company of her poems I saw a way I might go on my own steam, with my provisions.
Her example is a poetics of constant revision, movement, and the considerable courage it takes to maintain, even in times of necessary anger, the wonder that should make an artist intrepid. Wonder swats pettiness where it lands and shrugs off arrogance. Or tries very hard to do so, since they get heavy and while we’re here there’s no end to the wandering. “There is not much poetry from which I feel barred,” she wrote, “whether it is arcane or open in the extreme.” And what better way to work. To live. We’re not here to prevail but to go and see. Even when, as C. D. said, we’re not sure where we’re going. I’m grateful for this insight. And that I have the friend of her work with me for the trip.
Karen Solie’s most recent collection of poems is The Caiplie Caves. She teaches poetry and writing in Canada and for the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.