"There has to be some overwhelming experience of love, or of something, that the poem chronicles or records. It cannot be the subject of that love. If it's only that, if it's only language, then the poem is not going to survive. Poems that survive are the ones that come out of human beings who've had some expeience that needs to be testified to or recorded or given body. They are not just pleasing in themselves. We need to be able to master and explore and mine the nature of language itself, but it's the degree to which the poem is more than that which gives you real art. Some previous, wordless experience is being given a verbal equivalent. This is what I am looking for: poetry that lets the wordless original experience shine through the words."
(Franz Wright, in "A Conversation With Franz Wright, Image, #51)
Reading this interview with the poet Franz Wright will make you thankful, not envious of a "gift"for language which has caused him as much pain as it has caused him bliss. Winner of many honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, Wright spent years as an alcoholic, a manic depressive, and in all manners of self-abusive behavior -- before becoming a Christian and being baptized in the Catholic Church. Thank God. He is, by his own admission, still a rough character, but he has been changed by Love. If I had met him on the street several years ago, he would have looked like a scary, deranged homeless person. (He said that, not me!) I would not have known he was a brother in Christ on his way to realizing this for himself. I suspect I would have been on my way as quickly as I could.
I thought of this today, in near isolation, in 18 degree bitter cold on the top of Roan Mountain, near the Tennesse-North Carolina line, when two men asked for a ride down the mountain with my family. Two strangers. I let them in. The older one said "Up here we're backpackers; in the city we're homeless people." That was a curious thing to say. We remembered the admonition that we are not to "forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it" (Heb.13:3).
They could have been angels, they could have been like Franz Wright, or they could have been just plain backpackers. But one thing is for sure: I don't know how to heed that Scripture without some risk.
The priest who helped Franz Wright said he was scared of the guy at first. I'll bet he was. I was a little scared too - now that I think about it.