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Above the River: The Complete Poems
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Above the River: The Complete Poems

4.39 of 5 stars 4.39  ·  rating details  ·  1,282 ratings  ·  40 reviews
One of the most admired American poets of his generation, James Wright (1927-80) wrote contemplative, sturdy, and generous poems with an honesty, clarity, and stylistic range matched by very few--then or now. From his Deep Image-inspired lyrics to his Whtimanesque renderings of Neruda, Vallejo, and other Latin American poets, and from his heartfelt reflections on life, lov ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published April 1st 1992 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published May 1st 1990)
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The Complete Poems by Emily DickinsonLeaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanShakespeare's Sonnets by William ShakespeareThe Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. EliotAriel by Sylvia Plath
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Read Shall We Gather at the River, an outstanding work of black brooding and mortal obsession. Considered by many--Robert Bly among them--to be a seminal work of twentieth-century American poetry. It's one of six or seven volumes collected here from Wright's too-brief career.

Oh the voice lovelier was
Than a crow's dreaming face,
His secret face, that smiles
Alive in a dead place.
Oh I was lonely, lonely:
What were the not to me?

The not were nothing then.
Now let the not become
Nothing, and so remain,
True greatness. Wright was not unlike Picasso, a master (in poetry, as opposed to painting) whose true genius became evident only when he freed himself from the constraints of form and broke new emotional and linguistic ground in free verse. This is a book to treasure and re-visit again and again.
Scott Reeves
When he gets it right, as he often does, James Wright is among the finest of American poets. Hugely intelligent, lyrical, and unsentimentally touching his best poems are among the very best of the 20th Century. This book presents the work of his lifetime and as such includes his lesser work. Even so, it ranks among my six or seven favorite volumes of poetry. Wright is a hugely underrated Midwestern genius. Time spent reading him is time well spent indeed.
James Wright is a perfect poet for lush descriptions, celebration of the socially forgotten, and killer ending lines. In the forward, Donald Hall says that Wright's poems are weaker when they try to be pretty but masterful when they are beautiful. I would have to agree. This collection has many of both, but overall it reflects a man who lived close to the vein and was honest, witty, and real in his work and in his life.
If only all the poems could have been in Ohio. Lord, when the man makes even the slightest allusion to his home, the poem is immediately grounded. And textured. Otherwise, well, watching the colorized version of Ted Turner classics I get the idea what the movie is about, and what it must mean. But I just can't quite settle into everything.
Jeremy Heartberg
What we take from books reveals something about ourselves. If I take this as true, what did I learn from "Above the River"? Maybe I'm just spoiled.

Like most collected poems, "Above the River" reveals the complete James Wright. If you want to trace the roots that lead to the crescendo of 'The Branch Will Not Break' and 'Shall We Gather at the River", this book is for you. If you want to read a bunch of good poems that lead up to those two masterworks, you may be disappointed.

The collection is or
Sheila Dane
Wonderful book. Lyrical, gritty, moving. Wright's poetry is deeply personal, yet universal, a sort of every man's struggle to find himself. We follow him from his Ohio blue collar roots all the way to Italy where he for the first time, finds a sort of peace (having much to do with his marriage to Anne Wright) that had eluded him for the greater part of his life. This collection was put together by his wife, Anne Wright and contains a thoughtful foreword by Donald Hall. It also includes prose wri ...more
This is some of the great poetry of the mid-20th century. Wright was a consummate craftsman, to be sure. But, too, he was a channel (along with Robert Bly) for the critical import of Spanish poetry that had been ringing a big loud bell internationally for years--Neruda, Hernandez, Jimenez, Guillen, Cesar Vallejo... A job well done. Many years and translations later, a grateful community of poetry lovers salutes this man James A. Wright, great poet in every way a poet can be great.
The noted poet,
One of the best poems --

A Winter Day in Ohio
PWT died in late Spring, 1957

Clever, defensive, seasoned animals
Plato and Christ deny your grave. But man,
Who slept for years alone, will turn his face
Alone to the common wall before his time.
Between the woodchuck and the cross, alone
All afternoon, I take my time to mourn.
I am too old to cry against the snow
Of roots and stars, drifting above your face.
much of james wright's work alternates between elation at the beauty of the natural world and depression resulting from the ugliness of the human world. i can relate all too much to this bipolar cycling, but i read his work not so much for the full cycle but for the elation, for the beauty, for his identification with the small things, and for the feeling of breaking open with the blossoming of the world.
Sipped from this book--breathtaking in parts though sometimes the formal feel tends toward the sentimental; JW seems to write with tears always welling up (maybe that's my attraction!):
from "Spring Images":

Two athletes
Are dancing in the cathedral
Of the wind.

A butterfly lights on the branch
Of your green voice.

Small antelopes
Fall asleep in the ashes
Of the moon.
Bradley Harrison
"Two haunches of whales / Slope into whitecap doves, / It is hard to drown here. // Between two walls, / A fold of echoes, / A girl's voice walks naked. // I step into the water / Of two flakes. / The crowns of white birds rise / To my ankles, / To my knees, / To my face."

an excerpt from, "Snowstorm in the Midwest"

James Wright is one of my favorite poets. His poems are both spare and haunting. He is a master at conveying worlds of feeling in a few lines as in his poems "The Jewel" and "A Blessing". His work is accessible and allows for a real communication with the reader.
Gerry LaFemina
The fact is, like all complete poems, there are some bad poems in this collection--but our ability to see the body of work of this American master is worthwhile. We can see him develop as a poet, and watch him hone his skills to mastery.
One of my favorite poets. This is a good volume if you want everything Wright every published, but if you don't then you may want to stick to "selected poems" or start with "The Branch Will Not Break".
Mar 30, 2008 S. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
This is beautiful poetry but Farrar, Strauss and Giroux went real low-budgie on the book. Some smarter publisher should put together a better printing, better paper, clearer font, etc. What a bummer.
Emma Molls
May 09, 2011 Emma Molls rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Poetry Readers (general); Wright fans
Great collection of Wright. This collection (a mix of poems from earlier published Wright) was great. A good reader for a first time Wright reader or an old lover.
Read this for class; didn't find it particularly inspiring or exciting. His translations, however, make me want to read the originals, or translations of the originals.
Aaron O'Donovan
James Wright can punch you in the stomach with his wonderful (albeit depressing) descriptions of life (especially life in Ohio). The guy was almost too good.
Frustrating as hell. The shitty poems bring down the brilliant ones, and I still love it for its craft even as I hate Wright for his self-righteousness.
How can you not love Wright's poetry? He gives us everything a poem should be-- he says what most of us cannot express in words-- and he's hopeful.
The James Wright Poetry Festival in Martin's Ferry, Ohio is where I first fell in love with my wife.
His voice winds those hills like the river.
Kim Lohse
I keep coming back to this and it is richer every time. Boldly I say, I think Wright may be the greatest poet of the 20th century.
It's just James Wright... all of his poems. They are generous, a human spirit always breaking but never broken.
I never finished this volume but there are some AMAZING poems in here that I already I intend to!
Jul 04, 2007 Jeff rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
James Wright and Richard Hugo are my favorite poets, so you read poems by them, and then we can start a gang
Jason M.
The last half really gets my juices flowing, but the first half is too formal for my tastes.
I am the reporter of one wright. Paul said oh oh the prose poems! and I said yawn yawn yawn.
James Wright's poetic growth mirrors the mid-twentieth century's shift in poetry.
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  • Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo
  • Elegy
  • Black Zodiac
  • The Tunnel: Selected Poems
  • The Country Between Us
  • Song
  • The Book of Nightmares
  • The World Doesn't End
  • Refusing Heaven
  • Praise
  • The Collected Poems
  • The Complete Poems
  • What Work Is: Poems
  • The Collected Poems, 1956-1998
  • Selected Poems
  • Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968?1993
  • The Wild Iris
  • The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees (Revised Edition)
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

On December 13, 1927, James Arlington Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio. His father worked for fifty years at a glass factory, and his mother left school at fourteen to work in a laundry; neither attended school beyond the eighth grade. While in high school in 1943 Wrig
More about James Wright...
The Branch Will Not Break Selected Poems Collected Poems Shall We Gather at the River A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters

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“Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom. ”
A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.”
More quotes…