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Black Zodiac

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  674 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award

Black Zodiac offers poems suffused with spiritual longing—lyrical meditations on faith, religion, heritage, and morality. The poems also explore aging and mortality with restless grace. Approaching his vast subjects by way of small moments, Wright magnifies details to reveal truths much larger than the
Paperback, 96 pages
Published March 4th 1998 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published March 4th 1997)
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Michael Gossett
Sep 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
My favorite Charles Wright book. These long poems jostle you around; I wish more poets were capable of doing that.
Oct 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011-read
Amazing! Absolutely Brilliant. First time in a while I've read a poetry collection from front to back. I love his juxtaposition of landscape and language, the unseen and the seen. Definitely will always return to this collection when I'm seeking inspiration.

Fav. Lines:

"What happens is what happens,
And what happened never existed to start with."

"It is the shape that matters, he said.
Indeed shape precludes shapelessness, as God precludes
Form is the absence of all things. Like sin. Yes
Nov 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
What I remember redeems me,
strips me and brings me to rest,
An end to what has begun,
A beginning to what is about to be ended.

- “Apologia Pro Vita Sua”

Just the kind of poetry I like: lush but decipherable. Really gorgeous lines but compelling and thought-provoking all at once. I feel foolishly proud, as if it had anything to do with me, to live where a poet of Wright’s caliber makes his home.

All things aspire to weightlessness,
some place beyond the lip of language,
Some silence, some zone of gr
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
As with Chickamauga: Poems (the only other collection I've read), Charles Wright explores connections between spirituality, landscape, and art. He's a master at the long line; his poems sprawl across the page, full of ellipses and dashes, beginning left and then right, utilizing the entire page. I kind of have to work at his poems, which is a good thing.
Sep 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I have a tendency to prefer earlier poetry by many poets to their later works. I think of this as a fault of my own, my inability to keep up with their artistic development. Charles Wright is one of my all-time favorite poets, and reading this book, I felt more of a kinship towards his older pieces. So I read the book three times because I am not willing to give up on Charles Wright and myself that easily. Finally I came to love it, and recognized that my own predisposition to dislike too much a ...more
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
It's not quite a thesis, but the touchstone for this and much of Wright's work is that "Landscape is a lever of transcendence." Much of his work moves like a journal, a series of connected rumination on a subject or idea. Ideas, like the clouds that so often draw him here, drift through these pages. For Wright, there is absolutely a spiritual dimension to life, a dimension that can be sought but likely never grasped. I'll let him say it:

"We hang like clouds between heaven and earth
between somet
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved the form and arc of this book as well as the genius of the poems.
Mike Jensen
Mar 02, 2016 rated it liked it
The big demerit I give this book will hardly seem a problem to those sympathetic with the author's POV. I loathe the kind of mushy and undefined "spirituality" that many people have when they say, "I'm a very spiritual person." I have no idea that that means, other then they do not bother with logic when it comes to their beliefs.

I do not know if Charles Wright ever said anything this silly, but that attitude is the only way I can make sense of many of these poems. He does have a gift for langua
Laura Walton Allen
It's possible that I'll come back to this one with five stars later; I've had to speed-read it for a class, which does no book much justice and this one even less. I've loved it so far, loved its melancholy; its self-conscious meta-religious search for something to cling to in the face of aging and death; its sheer textural beauty. But it's also a bit plangent, a bit heavy on the allusion for my tastes. The collection certainly works as a whole, but in the spots where it doesn't, the failure's d ...more
Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2014
Such a relief to read beautiful language after plodding through Sartre, and so many common themes between the two.

"-the love of loss/ Light as a locket around my neck, idea of absence/Hard and bright as a dime inside my trouser pocket." (from lives of the artists pg 42)

(Also see poem 'envoi')

Once again, I connect clearly so much better to poetry and fable, than to the stripped bare language of philosophy.

Poetry is like an old friend: "My friend who in the old days, with a sentence or two,/ Woul
Sep 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
I keep moving forward and backward throughout this book. I feel no compunction to read it through chronologically—and I find that it enhances my ability to understand each of the tender hooks that hold together the pieces of this work. Wright's poetic imagination is immense, and his leaps of logic and phrase border on the divine--not as in fat cherubs playing harps or old ladies ogling a waiter, but in the sense of being at once beyond and within human understanding. We can understand when we li ...more
Daniel Klawitter
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
We go to our graves with secondary affections,
Second-hand satisfaction, half-souled,
star charts demagnetized.
We go in our best suits. The birds are flying. Clouds pass.
Sure we're cold and untouchable,
but we harbor no ill will.
No tooth tuned to resentment's fork,
we're out of here, and sweet meat.
Calligraphers of the disembodied, God's word-wards,
What letters will we illuminate?
Dec 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: poetry readers (obviously).
More demanding than many poetry collections I've read, this text requires a thorough cover-to-cover reading due to its interconnected subjects, imagery, and themes. The experience is rewarding, but until I treated as a set to be read together rather than just a collection of poems bound together out of circumstance (like in a Muldoon collection, for example), I wasn't able to fully enjoy the book.
Jun 11, 2014 added it
Shelves: poetry
I decided to read our new poet laureate's most famous poetry collection. There is no doubt this man can write. But I felt lost a lot during the course of these 83 pages. He is obsessed with the seasons, especially winter, and tends to focus on the American countryside. I'm too confused to rate this, but I did like it. Conflicted.
Bradley Harrison
May 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
"It's good to know certain things: / What's departed, in order to know what's left to come; / That water's immeasurable and incomprehensible // And blows in the air / Where all that's fallen and silent becomes invisible; / That fire's the light our names are carved in."

an excerpt from, "Apologia Pro Vita Sua, pt III"

Probably my single favorite book of poems.
Jamie Dougherty
Dec 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-own-this
One of the best books of poetry I've read. Will be returning to after I read more of his books. Favorites:
Meditation on Form and Measure
Meditation on Summer and Shapelessness
October II
Lives of the Saints
Lives of the Artists
Black Zodiac
Disjecta Membra
Doralee Brooks
Jul 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It will be years before I can give these poems the reading that they deserve. Still, I'm happy to have encountered them. With the literary and cultural allusions, each poem rewards a close reading and study. I feel like a failure reading these poems.
Scott Cox
“O April. The year begins beyond words, Beyond myself and the image of myself, beyond Moon’s ice and summer’s thunder. All that.” These lines from “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” are typical of Charles Wright’s poetry. Black Zodiac won Wright the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1997.
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book won a ton of awards. If you read it you'll know why. Wright is perhaps my favorite living poet, having the ability to compare some of the greatest works of art and artists with an image of his backyard. Brilliant.
Feb 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
My favorite Wright, and one of the best books of poetry I've yet found. It's one to own.
Oct 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Dead on. One of the best collections I've ever read, hands down.
Patrick Mcgee
May 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Charles Wright gets better the older he gets. I'm reading through his entire collection of poetry over the decades and this is his best yet. Highly recommended.
Aug 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book taught me a story about how our poet laureate once had an all-night ragin boner when he was nine:

"Nine years old! My dick! All night!"

You should read this book.
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Charles Simic once said when asked what he'd say his poetry is "about" that it was a difficult question because then Charles Wright wrote about the weather in Charlottesville, VA. Love.
Jun 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
I won't pretend to understand the poetry, but the imagery is some of the most astonishing and fascinating I've ever read.
Aug 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Each of these poems has two or three lines that are devastatingly beautiful and twenty or thirty lines that are just kind of meh-ish.
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Not bad ! Tries pretty hard but like, its a poetry book. Felt like some of went over my head, but there were some really beautiful lines.
Brian Wasserman
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
too many allusions, too hermetic
Tom Romig
Sep 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Congratulations to the new poet laureate! The three stars for this collection tells you something about me, not something about Charles Wright. I was in tune with probably fewer than ten of these poems. I just didn't connect or didn't understand. Well, just whose poetry do I find moving or insightful or beautiful or simply congenial? I go often to the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska, Billy Collins, Jane Kenyon, Langston Hughes, and James Tate. Other poets I'm fond of are Tony Hoagland, Philip Levin ...more
Mike Benoit
Feb 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Such mastery. Wright seems to be at his best when he's a little unsatisfied, just a little bit cynical, while remaining the brilliant seer that I am so thankful for time and time again. Bravo!
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  • Blizzard of One
  • Repair
  • Selected Poems
  • Walking to Martha's Vineyard
  • The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems, 1974-1994
  • Thomas and Beulah
  • Moy Sand and Gravel
  • Sun Under Wood
  • Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems
  • The World Doesn't End
  • The Simple Truth
  • Native Guard
  • Song
  • Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems
  • Elegy
  • Above the River: The Complete Poems
  • Different Hours
  • Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

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“Meanwhile, the mole goes on with its subterranean daydreams,
The dogs lie around like rugs”
“It’s good to know certain things:
What’s departed, in order to know what’s left to come;
That water’s immeasurable and incomprehensible
And blows in the air
Where all that’s fallen and silent becomes invisible;
That fire’s the light our names are carved in.

That shame is a garment of sorrow;
That time is the Adversary, and stays sleepless and wants for nothing;
That clouds are unequal and words are.”
More quotes…