MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And finally this hour, a conversation with the newly named Poet Laureate of the United States, Charles Wright. He's 78, a Southerner raised in rural Tennessee. He lives now in Charlottesville, Virginia. Wright was picked by the librarian of Congress, who calls him a master of the meditative, image-driven lyric, a poet who creates moments of singular musicality. When I spoke with Charles Wright earlier today, I asked him what led him to poetry in the first place.
CHARLES WRIGHT: Well, an inability to do anything else, among other things.
WRIGHT: I first started reading it seriously when I was in the Army in Verona, Italy. And I was 23 years old, which is very late for a poet. Most poets starts about the age of 3, as I've come to find out.
WRIGHT: But that was not my case. I did try to write stories in college because I was interested in writing, and I was interested in the sound of language. But I was just no good at narrative and fiction. And when I discovered the lyric poem that advanced not by narrative steps, but by blocks and layers and imagery, I said, gee, I probably could do that. So let me try that. And that's sort of what I've been doing, oh, for the last 50 years or so. (Laughing) And I feel very happy to have found it because it obviously change my life and gave me something to do.
BLOCK: Do you think that the things that inspire you in your poems - have they changed months over the decades?
WRIGHT: Not really. It's always been the idea of landscape that's around me that I look at, the idea of the music of language and then the idea of God or that spiritual mystery that we doggedly follow, some of us, all of our days, in which we won't find the answer to until it's too late. Or maybe it's not too late. Maybe it's just the start, I don't know.
In any case, that's what I've always written about. Those three things are the meanings of my poems. The content changes, you know, what it's about - this, that and the other. But the meaning has always been the same, the same thing I've been after ever since I was a tongue-tied altar boy in the Episcopal Church.
BLOCK: Well, have you thought about what you want your role as the poet laureate to be because there are a bunch of different models for this, right? I mean, Billy Collins tried to bring poems into high school classrooms. Ted Kooser wrote a weekly column for newspapers. What do you think you might do?
WRIGHT: Well, I'll probably stay here at home and think about things. I will not be an activist laureate, I don't think.
BLOCK: An activist poet laureate, huh?
WRIGHT: Yes, the way Natasha was.
BLOCK: Natasha Trethewey...
WRIGHT: Natasha Trethewey.
BLOCK: ...The current poet laureate.
WRIGHT: Yeah, and certainly not the way Billy Collins was or Bob Hass or Rita Dove or Robert Pinsky. You know, they had programs I have no program. I have been deprogrammed, as it were. (Laughing) And I'll just do what they ask me, and I'll try to come up with some ideas about things. But I am not going to actively go out and stir up the honey bucket, you know.
BLOCK: Well, it still is a great honor, and congratulations on being named the next poet laureate of the United States, Charles Wright.
WRIGHT: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
BLOCK: And I wonder if you'd mind - we asked you to bring in some of your poems with you today. Would you mind reading one to take us out?
WRIGHT: Well, I'll read this one. (Reading) this world is not my home. The more you say, the more mistakes you'll make. So keep it simple. No one arrives without leaving soon, this blue-eyed, green-footed world. Hello, Goldie. Goodbye. We won't meet again. So what? The rust will remain in the trees, and pine needles stretch their necks, their tiny necks. And sunlight will snore in the limp grass.
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