An article by Henry Stimpson in P&W Magazine (March / April - 2006) gives us a glimpse of the poet Franz Wright which I was intrigued by for several reasons, but most importantly because Franz has achieved success outside the realm of academia.
Franz wrote in the shadow of his father's success, although his contact with his father while growing up was limited. In the article, Franz relates writing a poem at the age of 15 and mailing it off to his father. His father reportedly wrote back something like, "I'll be damned, you're a poet. Welcome to hell."
Genetics aside, both achieved a Pulitzer for poetry - I believe the only father and son combination to do so, but the paths both too to such success differ. James Wright was educated at Kenyon College where literary arts were the order of the Day. Franz however achieved his success working outside the academic structure. It is perhaps this facet that I find most interesting. While I am not a critic of academia for the sake if itself, I find refreshing hope in the fact that one can achieve such a respected level of success in the art of poetry outside of its realm.
Both father and son battled mental health issues. Franz has spent a great deal of energy in his later life focusing on poetry as a way to help those isolated and alone in their illness as he once was. In the P&W article he spoke frankly about the path he took. "Let's face it, somebody has to write from outside academia. I got my ass kicked in this world, but I got something out of it. I think I have a sense of the way people live on the outside that I wouldn't trade." This reflects a point of view that I can identify with both as a writer and a consumer of poetry.
tags: Poetry Franz Wright academia Literature Mental Health