Charles Wright advises young poets to, “Read. Read everything they can get their hands on. I would tell them what Theodore Roethke says: ‘You want to be a poet? There’s the library.’
“Learn all that stuff, imitate all that stuff you like, and pretty soon you’ll have your own voice and your own style. It takes some time, but everybody has to imitate when starting out,” he says.
On the morning of this interview, news of the first successful free climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan rock face had just broken, and the images worked their way into the conversation as Wright mused on the challenges of teaching poetry to a new audience.
“Everyone starts with what’s in front of them,” he says. “I would try to do that part of poetry at first for beginners or high school students, because poetry is a big wall for young people—they can’t grasp it.”
“It’s sort of like the face of El Capitan, the Dawn Wall. You have to get up there with your hands and your feet, you have to go into poems with all your senses intact and your emotions engaged. You don’t want that to go into the poem, you want that to come out of the poem.”
“Poetry’s hard work, it really is,” says this Poet Laureate. “You don’t just lay down a couple of feelings and let it rest at that. A lot of people do, but that doesn’t make it very strong. It’s a lot of handholds and a lot of footholds.”