"For a long while now, C. D. Wright has been writing some of the greatest poetry-cum-prose you can find in American literature.One Big Self does to the contemporary prison-industrial complex what James Agee did to poverty -- it reacts passionately and lyrically (and idiosyncratically) to a sociopolitical abomination. This book, while angry and sorrowful and bewildered, has humor, constant levity and candor, and countless moments of incredible beauty." --Dave Eggers,The New York Times Book Review "Wright has found a way to wed fragments of an iconic America to a luminously strange idiom, eerie as a tin whistle, which she uses to evoke the haunted quality of our carnal existence."--The New Yorker Inspired by numerous visits inside Louisiana state prisons--where MacArthur Fellow C.D. Wright served as a "factotum" for a portrait photographer--One Big Self bears witness to incarcerated men and women and speaks to the psychic toll of protracted time passed in constricted space. It is a riveting mosaic of distinct voices, epistolary pieces, elements from a moralistic board game, road signage, prison data, inmate correspondence, and "counts" of things--from baby's teeth to chigger bites: Count your folding money Count the times you said you wouldn't go back Count your debts Count the roaches when the light comes on Count your kids after the housefire One Big Self--originally published as a large-format limited edition that featured photographs and text--was selected byThe New York Times andThe Village Voice as a notable book of the year. This edition features the poem exclusively. C.D. Wright is the author of ten books of poetry, including several collaborations with photographer Deborah Luster. She is a professor at Brown University.
My taste for poetry usually runs as follows: short, structured (at least a little), and with a tendency toward the humorous. This long poem had none of these characteristics. Nonetheless, I found it absorbing and thought provoking. Wright’s aim was to match personalities and desires of the men and women in these three prisons. She has done a marvelous job.
Once I started reading, I could not stop – except for the occasional pause to re-read a line or two that deserved an extra moment of savoring. This really is poetry at it best – the collection of images, the words from the inmates, the signs on the walls, all came together to draw the reader inside. A sense of claustrophobia and the relentless monotony of their lives came out in Wright’s words. The next item on the agenda is to try and find Deborah Luster’s book of photos from the trip Wright made with her to visit these prisons. One Big Self wants me to read more of Wright’s work. 5 stars.