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Joshua R. Butts
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Spring had come to Cincinnati, and so had C.D. Wright. Straight into town from Arkansas via Rhode Island. I was not yet a student at the University of Cincinnati, so that I have an Elliston story to tell from that spring is even better I think. The Elliston poet, in that era, would teach two classes a week for five weeks. Lesley would be off in McMicken (this long, narrow, lasagna-like building with two lions out front) and I would be looking for news: “So what is C.D. Wright like?” She had them writing an abecedarium. I found out that she liked Bob Dylan. Everyone likes Bob Dylan. But I found out that C.D. Wright might have liked Bob Dylan with the same intensity that I liked Bob Dylan. (I was then working on an advance elegy for him, never completed. I must have on some undetectable level wanted him to live so he could sing through more rags.) I am from southeastern Ohio. Cincinnati is in The West. Folks from southeastern Ohio are denotatively Appalachian, but they are not southern. But, they might be mistaken for being southern. (Once my mom visited the northern city of Columbus, OH—birthplace of Jim Cummins—and was questioned intensely by some salesman about her accent.) C.D. Wright is southern, legitimately. She also learned from The Waste Land that the connections between things don’t need to be made clear. I wasn’t a student, but I was already a student. I was some kind of lurker, wishing I could gain some entry into the class. And then one day she said something like, Does anybody know anyone who records things? I wasn’t in the room. But that was me. I was all about recording things. I had a Pro Tools rig and had made it a goal to be some kind of homemade recording artist. (That sounds like I was baking bread.) When Lesley came home with the news, I affirmed that I could do it, while in some way I also probably tried to communicate that I wasn’t a pro. Shyness coupled with intense interest makes for one sorry dude. Wright needed to record four pieces from her recent collaboration with Deborah Luster called One Big Self. The poem and photographs lyricized and documented life in the Louisiana prison system. Through anaphora, Wright becomes a sort of shorthand, contemporary Whitman: Count your fingers Count your toes Count your nose holes Count your blessings Count your stars (lucky or not) Count your loose change Count the cars at the crossing Count the miles to the state line Count the ticks you pulled off the dog Count you calluses Count your shells Count the points on the antlers Count the newjack’s keys Count your cards; cut them again She writes of the poem: What I wanted was to unequivocally lay out the real feel of hard time. I wanted it given to understand that when you pass four prisons in less than an hour, the countryside’s apparent... Continue reading
Posted Sep 27, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Sep 25, 2013