Inspiration for writing can come from anywhere, according to William Wright, the current UT Department of English Writer-in-Residence.
Wright read and discussed a number of his poems at a reading Monday, Feb. 22 in John C. Hodges Library. The event was part of the University’s Writers in the Library series in which distinguished authors and poets from around the country come to read from their own work.
Wright’s poetry is unique because, unlike many more traditional Southern poets, he writes in an informal style.
“When I began writing seriously, I [wrote] formal poems. Then I fell in love with Gerard Manley Hopkins, who hit me with sort of this pyrotechnic force. What I did then is say, ‘How am I going to synthesize this formal tradition with Hopkins…to create a contemporary poetry worth reading?’”
Over time, Wright developed an innovative yet Southern style of free-verse poetry.
One of the biggest reasons why Wright’s poetry is categorized as Southern is that he draws a large amount of inspiration from the outdoors. Hikes, animals, snowstorms and orchards were all topics addressed in the poems he read.
According to Art Smith, a poetry professor at the University, Wright “is a custodian of the land, of the southern earth itself…[and] a preserver and delighter of language [evidenced by the] lush and sometimes raucous sounds of words.”
Many of Wright’s poems were inspired by his sleep paralysis, a condition he has suffered from since he was 7 years old.
“What that means,” he stated, “is that I actually don’t go to sleep. I see my dreams in my waking state. So I see things, I hear things, I smell things, I even sometimes have tactile sensations.” He says many of these episodes are terrifying. “I try to make them art to help deal with the fact that I have this condition.”
Honor Lundt, a senior Linguistics major who attended the reading, appreciated the fact that Wright offered context to his poems by sharing the things that inspired his writing.
“A lot of times poetry represents an idea or an emotion, and [readers] kind of have to guess at the context,” she stated. “It was interesting to hear him tell his stories and personal experiences that inspired the artwork.”
After the reading, Wright signed copies of his most recent book “Tree Heresies,” which was published in 2015.
The next reading will be held Mar. 7 in the Lindsay Young auditorium of John C. Hodges Library.
This article was featured on TNJN, the official news website for the University of Tennessee’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media.