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The Beforelife [Kindle Edition]

Franz Wright
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $20.00
Kindle Price: $11.84
You Save: $8.16 (41%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

In this stunning collection, Franz Wright chronicles the journey back from a place of isolation and wordlessness. After a period when it seemed certain he would never write poetry again, he speaks with bracing clarity about the twilit world that lies between madness and sanity, addiction and recovery. Wright negotiates the precarious transition from illness to health in a state of skeptical rapture, discovering along the way the exhilaration of love--both divine and human--and finding that even the most battered consciousness can be good company.

Whether he is writing about his regret for the abortion of a child, describing the mechanics of slander ("I can just hear them on the telephone and keening all their kissy little knives"), or composing an ironic ode to himself ("To a Blossoming Nut Case"), Wright's poems are exquisitely precise. Charles Simic has characterized him as a poetic miniaturist, whose "secret ambition is to write an epic on the inside of a matchbook cover." Time and again, Wright turns on a dime in a few brief lines, exposing the dark comedy and poignancy of his heightened perception.

Here is one of the poems from the collection:

Description of Her Eyes

Two teaspoonfuls,
and my mind goes
everyone can kiss my ass now--

then it's changed,
I change my mind.

Eyes so sad, and infinitely kind.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The six books that Wright published in the '90s were more or less split between Carnegie-Mellon University and Oberlin College presses, with the latter publishing Ill Lit: Selected Poems to little fanfare in 1998. Clearly, however, Knopf editor Deborah Garrison was paying attention, having made Wright's 13th collection her first for the house since taking over for the late Harry Ford last year. The poems here slowly make explicit a psychologically acute back story, featuring Haldol, codeine, drinking and childhood abuse. (Wright's father was the late poet James Wright.) They depend almost completely on a pared-down, querulous, alternatingly grandiose and self-deflating depression-speak, which can be terrific when on, and much less impressive when even slightly off. A laconic rhythm drives self-revelations like "Not Now": "This mask/ this glove/ of human flesh// is all I have/ and that's not bad/ and that's not good// not good enough// not now." But too many of these short monologues can't sustain their self-reflection, as in "Primogeniture," which opens "My dad beat me with his belt/ for my edification" and closes "may my hand whither// may it forget how to write/ if I ever strike a child." Single lines and thoughts can be better than whole poemsA"Dark the computer dies in its sleep"; " you are not/ going to hurt me again/ and I, I can't/ happen to you"; "I'll give you something to cry about"Agiving this uneven collection depth and credibility. (Jan. 31)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"This luminous, courageous book is about all of us--about our daily torment and redemption, which we dare not speak even to our souls. But Wright has done so."

--Olga Broumas, author of
Rave: Poems, 1975-1999

"These poems break me; they're like jewels shaped by blunt, ruined fingers--miraculous gifts. At any one time only a handful of genuine poets reside on the planet. I consider Franz Wright to be one of these, and I'm grateful that we have him among us."

---Denis Johnson

"Writers who are genuinely original, who beat their own path, make up a kind of visionary company, to which Franz Wright, with this new book, must clearly be admitted. These poems seem haunted by their own dark imaginings, yet at surprising moments turn all of a sudden humorous, if mordantly so. Reading them will train readers to stay alert for whatever devastating surprises may be coming up next."

---Donald Justice

"In a language waking from delirium, these astonishing poems offer---in their spare, raw, and pure lyric clarity---the prayers of madness and the light of its aftermath. Wright is a poet apart in his gifts and his courage."

---Carolyn Forche

"Intriguing and always accessible, with no 'irrelevant / lies,' this book will expand the audience for poetry by showing readers that, in spite of stunning obstacles, it is always 'possible to live.'"
--Library Journal

"In these short meditations of anguish and hope, Wright achieves the clarity of 'seeing,' and a hard-won wisdom as well."--Kirkus Reviews

" 'Beforelife': the word is so striking that the halting suspence of a double-crostic puzzle overhangs the book, as each poem individually withholds final definition. These poems brilliantly duplicate the willfulness and self-spite of the drinker's impulse ... they're mostly miniatures, the beginnings or endings o...

Product Details

  • File Size: 102 KB
  • Print Length: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 Reprint edition (February 24, 2010)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00395ZZ9O
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,376,468 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scalpel on a Napkin January 24, 2001
Whispered and etched, this book, this swarm of white space razored by words, this pill of dry and dead truth and black stars hanging in the far parts of the mind, which quietly explode (like an echo of an explosion) when you least expect them to, is one of the most urgent books of poetry I've read in several years. The occasional primordial club bashing the back of one's skull, the self-deprecating humor ("you will find me . . . . at the motherless"), the deeply earned authority to say with complete conviction "Why isn't Jesus's face ever described?/ Because/ in heaven unlike earth/ it doesn't make a difference/ what one looks like/ I suppose" This is a courageous and startling book of poems, a new chapter, in fact, in American Poetry.
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5 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars too little apparent effort March 14, 2003
Just because someone poetically bares his soul about addiction and recovery does not ipso facto mean the expression of baring is of poetic value. To be sure, there are some striking phrases, and Wright's ability to "turn on a dime" as the jacket states is evident. But so much of this stuff seems as though it never got past the first draft, as though pieces of conversation were stenographed, cut up and put on the page to look like poetry rather than like prosaic ordinaria.
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7 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars affect or content? April 8, 2001
By A Customer
As I read through this book I had the growing impression that the author was more concerned with his role as poet than he was in his poems. Too often we're given a "mood" line or gesture and not something that grows out of the poem itself, but the mood wears thin and so does the role.
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More About the Author

Franz Wright's recent works include Earlier Poems, God's Silence, and The Beforelife (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize). In 2004 his Walking to Martha's Vineyard received the Pulitzer Prize. He has been the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Fellowship, and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, among other honors. He currently lives in Waltham, Massachusetts, with his wife, the translator and writer Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright.

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