Renowned Appalachian poet Charles Wright was greeted at ETSU with open arms as a welcome back to his home in the Tri-Cities.
On Oct. 25, the Reece Museum hosted Wright’s afternoon Q&A discussion with Dr. Jesse Graves to give an insight into Wright’s poetry. Later that same evening, Wright performed his poetry in front of a full house at the D.P. Culp University Center Auditorium.
“Like a lot of us, or a lot of people, I had the urge to write while I was in college,” Wright said, harking back to his years spent in Italy.
Wright spent a part of his life growing up in Kingsport, Tennessee before moving to North Carolina. After graduating high school, he was granted the Fulbright Scholarship, a prestigious national scholarship aimed to support cultural integration among countries through college students. In Italy, he learned to translate Italian poetry, and since then, he was inspired to write his own works.
“Italy changed my life,” Wright said. “I was just a country boy from East Tennessee … The whole world opened up to me.”
Since becoming a poet, Wright won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for his poetry collection “Black Zodiac.” Recently, Wright was named the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2014, an honor for any poet and the only Appalachian poet to receive this award.
He had taught in California for an extended period of time before moving back to the South. He’s been living here since his return.
“I spent the whole time in California writing about East Tennessee … When I got here, it all disappeared and I began writing about California,” Wright said. “Wherever you’re not is what you write about.”
For his audience, Wright performed several of his poems from his various collections. He included the poems written about California and those written about Tennessee.
Wright’s stage presence was not only comfortable but genuine as well. He articulated his poems well and provided his personal inflection on the poems, which shed light to the tones of his poetry. Though many of his poems were darker in mood, some of them were light-hearted and suggested a tone of jest and fond remembrance.
On a few occasions, Wright joked with his audience and made comments on his own works. He said sometimes he forgot writing some of his poems and remarked on these poems and said, “Sometimes I have to wonder what the hell I was thinking.”
Wright’s performance ended with a standing ovation from the audience, where Wright joined in the clapping too.
For more information on Charles Wright and his poetry, visit https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/charles-wright.