January 11, 2017

Carolyne Wright

LADY FROM MOUNTAINS

The walls of your private room at school were so choked
with Fillmore posters that daylight didn’t show,
but your sights were set far off: the Colorado
ranges none of us had crossed. Though you joked
and smoked grass with us until all hours,
we never saw you sleep. Or go to class.
Once in conference, when your theme was passed
around, you fainted—dead beat, our blighted flower.

In what spell did your patchouli incense hold us?
How could we sit for hours in full lotus
watching you sway and sob to the wail of sitar
or the songs of rock stars who had gone too far?
Finally you went home, were someone’s spouse.
Were you happy? Or shuttering your house?

from Rattle #53, Fall 2016

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Carolyne Wright: “After writing mostly in the default style of the time—free verse—I began to write in form as a way of giving myself more challenges. My own teachers of the post-World War II generation had started out writing in form—their early published books were filled with formal poetry—but now that they were professors, most of them had pretty much moved to writing in free verse, and they were not teaching the principles of form to their own students. So some of us began teaching ourselves—we sensed that writing in form could teach us things about rhythm, structure, language, and the elements of prosody that would take much longer to learn from free verse. I was also discovering that I wanted to tell stories, so my poems, even formal ones, grew progressively more narrative. I found myself writing a series of ‘portrait sonnets’—about people I had known who intrigued or mystified me in various ways: family members, childhood companions, college friends (or rivals!), conflict-ridden classmates with whom it was difficult to get along. Writing these sonnets was a way to discover, in the process of recollection and invention with the language itself, what I had not known about the subjects of these portraits—the ever-shifting dynamics of human relationships. I wrote a number of these sonnets in graduate school, then set them aside for years. More recently I have begun to return to them, revising old, never-published drafts and writing new sonnets. The ‘Lady from Mountains’ was a talented but troubled undergraduate classmate who left school toward the end of our first year; for a while afterwards, I heard indirect news of her, but I never learned how her life turned out.”