November 20, 2012

What’s up with Franz Wright?


For the past week or so Franz Wright has been ranting on Facebook about MFA programs and the overall lack of talent currently inhabiting the national poetry circuit. By Wright’s measure, MFA programs are worthless, and those who think becoming a “true poet” is achieved through workshops and other education modes are bulbs of the dimmest order.

Wright the poet, of course, is the Pulitzer-prize winning author of Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, a book so good, in my humble estimation, that in years to come it will be read and celebrated as a masterwork of American poetry. He is also the son of fellow Pulitzer-winning poet James Wright.

But Wright the person is not as easy to enjoy, or, strike that, not as palatable. Take, for example, his recent Facebook excoriation of poet Meg Kearny, who had the gall to suggest he might “like” women’s college Pine Manor in Boston:

Meg Kearny, in response to your invitation, insinuating I would like tyhe writing program art Pine Manor: you have to be shitting me—have I not made it clear that MFA programs have turned poetry into an occupation, and a joke—have weakened American poetry , have desecrated it into artifact instead of the result of a soul’s progress in solitary devotion. You have turned it into one more subject in a university or college or private scam operation like yours. Everyone from no talent unknowns to Chaeles Simic, Ch Wright, Levine, Strand etc (those magnificently promising poets born in the late twenties and thirties who sold their souls to the deans for an upper middle class lifestyle–phony radicals, hypocrites all, like Carolyn Forche live in a luxury unimaginable to the human beings they play act solidarity with can make it if you imitate whatever ephemeral bullshit is hip at the moment—a real writer has always sought solitude, not group therapy…

Those writing prograsms have lowered the bar so far down anyone can trip over it and get a degree & consider themselves A MASTER OF THE ART OF POETRY at 24 (a feat previously achieved in English only by Keats, H. Crane…any MFA subdoormat poet, like Melanie Braverman, by being a nice mommie can succeed at a school like Brandeis because real talent means nothing now–a business sense plus niceness is all…and the actual talent there, Olga Broumas, who sold herself for health insurance maybe fifteen years ago, has not published a book since her Collected, RAVE, in 1999…a disaster. How many actual poets can one generation, even a standout one produce? We now have more writers than readers of poetry–we have ACADEMIC POETS AS the GREAT ASPIRATION OF 21 YEAR OLD KNOW-NOTHINGS, the very enslavement real writers have been fleeing forever: you have only to picture Rimbsud or Blake in a writing workdhop–thry’d be out of thst sbsurd scene (lovely line breaks, Billie) ready to slip into harness, ready to desecrate the art they claim to love and their own soul their own minds & hearts,—and YOU all get the dough. Think of the state of your soul and just cut it out. You can still choose. Franz Wright

Needless to say this shitstorm of words elicited much discussion. Fans of Wright saluted his personal brand of poet prickishness and defense of the you’re-born-with-it doctrine. Detractors told Wright he was wrong and then inquired after his mental health, which, frankly, is a legitimate concern, especially given his struggles with addiction, and this update, posted shortly after his initial rant:

Before I shut up and get back to something a bit more productive than pissing in the hurricane, I should say I am in the final stages of kicking opiates, once more, and back at meetings of the recovery program I love and have been a member of since December 1999,–you’ve probably heard of it, check it out sometime–if everyone, including nonalcoholic monsters like that mincing piece of shit Romney (who lives not far from me, but in a somewhat different neighborhood, also he doesn’t have to write poems–)–if every body went to them meetings, I do believe the Kingdom of Heaven would come–would be here now. FW

Anyone who’s read Wright will recognize his spiritual and intellectual conflict. He is at once deeply pissed off and wonderfully unconcerned about it. He longs for the sacred and mysterious while flogging the present and discernible, which underscores why it’s not too much of a stretch to see where his anti-MFA feelings come from.

Bashing MFA programs is easy. And Franz Wright certainly has a reputation for being a bully. But Attacking Kearny for inviting him to like a page is petty and misguided. Despite being rather prolific, Wright would be better served writing poems than screeds. Or maybe he cannot help it. Maybe it’s in his blood …

I’m Franz Wight, son of James Wright. (He used to call the MFA yhe motherfucking asshole degree. And Theodore Roethke, his teacher, and in my opinion–along with R. Carver –the greatest poet this country has produced, he used to call creative writing a misspelling of poetry…
Anyway, thar’s me. Gave my life to that useless art. Go ahead–give me some more pain.

No matter which side you take on this argument, one thing is for sure: Franz Wright comes off sounding like some kind of marvelous jerk who, despite using new media to do so, is trying damn hard to find his place in the old school.

Meanwhile, it appears his Facebook profile has been deleted.



Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.