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The Beforelife

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  236 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews
In this stunning collection, Franz Wright chronicles the journey back from a place of isolation and wordlessness. After a period when it seemed certain he would never write poetry again, he speaks with bracing clarity about the twilit world that lies between madness and sanity, addiction and recovery. Wright negotiates the precarious transition from illness to health in a ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published April 2nd 2002 by Knopf (first published 2001)
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Peycho Kanev
Aug 09, 2015 Peycho Kanev rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry

Just hope he forgot the address
and don’t answer the phone

for a week:
put out all the lights

in the house—
behave like you aren’t there

if some night when
it’s blizzarding, you see

Franz Wright arrive
on your street with his suitcase

of codeine pills,
lugging that heavy

black manuscript
of blank texts.
Apr 11, 2014 Jason rated it liked it

The sole tavern there, empty
and filled
with cigarette smoke;
the smell
of beer, urine and the infinite
sadness you dread
and need so much of
for some reason
Feb 04, 2015 Mary rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, poetry
I read this book twice in one sitting...these poems are beautiful and horrific at the same time.
J Frank Parnell
Jan 06, 2009 J Frank Parnell rated it really liked it
been drinkin'
Oct 25, 2010 Kathleen rated it really liked it
I finished this today. Really liked it for its terrible honesty and rawness, its odd and striking images, and something tentative and yet "well, here it is" about it. Seemed to match life and his tortured life quite well. I hope this gave him some peace and uplift. Likewise, I hope it gave his wife some peace, as he wrote the poems for her he says on his dedication page, while tucked away, presumably, to recover from alcoholism, as the cover and many of the poems suggests, including this brief p ...more
Nov 19, 2015 Shannon rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
I was actually disappointed in this collection of poems by an artist of Wright's caliber. Having been mesmerized earlier this year by his stunning collection, Walking to Martha's Vineyard, I was expecting something with the same eloquence and achingly beautiful remorse over passing time, aging, death. Martha's Vineyard could convey raw anger and questioning without the adulteration of vulgarities that Wright seems to rely on in The Beforelife. I also found the structure of the poems a bit archai ...more
Apr 01, 2008 Craig rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: matt
This is my first taste of Franz Wright's poetry.

Initially, I thought his spare, open language felt amateurish in a way and was wondering how he could have won a Pulitzer.

However, there is a certain power to the tiny poems in this volume, a certain pull. I found myself falling for the words. I found myself truly loving many of the poems in the book. I will definitely look into more of his work.

Probably my favorite of the book:


There are a few things I will miss,
a girl with no shirt on
Caleb Benadum
May 22, 2013 Caleb Benadum rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Franz Wright's poetry is deceitfully easy to read, and minimalistic. While reading the actual book took me barely any time at all, chewing on the poems I jotted down from the book has taken me much longer. Which is Franz Wright's true brilliance, that so much is packed into so little, that his poetry is heartfelt, philosophical, and uniquely his own style, but also done in a way which leaves the reader thinking, at first: is this really where he wanted to end the poem? It's only on further refle ...more
Sep 12, 2011 martha rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2011, 2012
Got this used for $4. The previous owner had dog-eared specific poems throughout the book, which was delightful, like silent marginalia.

If you're going to read one Franz Wright book, though, it should still definitely be Walking to Martha's Vineyard. This is the collection he wrote before that and it's rawer, more miserable, bleak and careful. It makes me appreciate Walking even more.
Apr 27, 2009 Richard rated it liked it
This just-pre-Walking to Martha's Vineyard collection just doesn't smack of the brilliance of Vineyard. Wright's sledgehammer imagery isn't quite here, the painful wrenching of the gut, the deathly and joyous insights. The shortest ones in here are best, but he far outdid himself with the next collection.
Sep 17, 2009 Sunni rated it liked it
Interesting titles that have nothing to do with the poems themselves. It was very spare and bright (like the title of the book) and reflected a lot of his father's work, but he is definitely a master of his own poetry. Some poems were powerful, others I just didn't "get"
Jun 02, 2009 Terry rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
Not at all my cup of tea. Spare to the point of "this is... a finished...poem? Really?" I kinda liked a handful, which is not enough to endorse the book as a whole.
Abraham Hyatt
Mar 21, 2008 Abraham Hyatt rated it did not like it
Shelves: poetry
Disappointing. It's a raw story yet he manages to bore you with it by the end. There are gems: "Homage," "Bodybag." But he took the easy way out too often.
Natalia Cooper
Apr 25, 2008 Natalia Cooper rated it it was amazing
Stacatto visions of the darkness of addiction and the light of redemption and faith. These poems are gorgoeous!
Brien Dawson
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Dane rated it it was amazing
Oct 28, 2013
Daniel Nester
Daniel Nester rated it it was amazing
Jan 05, 2010
Daniel Gualtieri
Daniel Gualtieri rated it liked it
May 12, 2016
Alexander Helmke
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Jul 23, 2011
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Jul 28, 2007
Matthew rated it it was amazing
Jun 25, 2007
Kate Sands
Kate Sands rated it liked it
Jun 20, 2014
Adam rated it it was amazing
Jul 11, 2007
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Born in Vienna, Franz Wright is the author of fourteen collections of poetry. Walking to Martha's Vineyard (Knopf 2003) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. His newest collections, God’s Silence, and Earlier Poems were published by Knopf in, 2006 & 2007. Wright’s other books include The Beforelife (2001), Ill Lit: New and Selected Poems (1998), Rorschach Test (1995), The Night World and the Word Ni ...more
More about Franz Wright...

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