cover image A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright

A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright

, with Jonathan Blunk.. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30 (633pp) ISBN 978-0-374-18506-0

Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Wright (1927–1980) is well served by his wife and Maley, an English professor specializing in his verse, who have gathered nearly 35 years' worth of correspondence, from his high school graduation to his death. The letters begin in 1946; Wright has already started translating foreign poets into English, informing a teacher that "Catullus is as dear to me as are sleep and music." Through the decades, his rough translations of poets from Rilke to Lorca also find their way into his correspondence. Wright could go on at great length, especially to his closest friends, who included fellow poets such as Robert Bly and James Dickey—in the latter case, only after Wright offered a humble apology for responding angrily to a bad review. Short biographical notes preface each of the book's sections, but more context would have been welcome for matters such as Wright's "catathymic" (i.e., manic) depression. For many, though, the most valuable material will be an appendix of more than 50 pages of previously unpublished poems and early drafts of published work. That, and the raw evidence of Wright's personal voice—with its passion for poetry and deep sensitivity to others—greatly enhance our understanding of his poetry. (July 13)