By: Adam Slemp
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz Wright visited Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Tony and Nina Gentile Gallery on Thursday, September 13 to read poetry, tell his stories and share his unique perspective to a standing-room-only crowd.
“There’s a need here to see ourselves as we truly are – fallen, with no PR,” said Prof. David Craig regarding Wright and his writing style during the introduction to both the poet and the concept of a poetry reading. “That’s a much better way to evangelize; out of our humanity and not some puffed-up notion of what we should be.”
Craig teaches several English classes at Franciscan.
During the hour-and-a-half long reading, Wright read nearly 20 separate poems – some in the conventional verse format, some in the modern prose style, and three of them haikus, followed by an additional two poems that came from audience request.
He spoke briefly of the stories surrounding the poems, their inspirations, and the thoughts and musings they brought to his mind as he was reading them. Sometimes the reading was humorous; sometimes disconcerting, but always aimed to provoke thought and portray a brutally honest world in terms no way diluted by Wright’s Catholic faith.
Born in Vienna, Austria in 1953, Wright graduated from Oberlin College in 1977 and, with his father, formed the first parent/child combination to have ever won the Pulitzer Prize in the same category. His work appears in 15 different collected publications and has been featured in Poetry Magazine along with others.
Not all of Wright’s story, even in recent years, should be viewed as one of success. The poet spoke briefly of his ongoing battle with cancer and how it has affected his writing.
“I had been struggling with cancer and (was) told I had a year to live,” he said. “And I had two books I wanted to write, so I went home and wrote day and night.”
As part of the story surrounding another poem, he mentioned the damage that treatment had been affecting his overall health and how, although the treatment had been successful, signs of cancer had recently been coming back. In the exact words used in the poem, Medicine Cabinet: “I knew that I looked like Death getting ready to eat a cracker.”