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Tuesday May 23, 2017
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C. D. Wright



She has since continued to explore these kinds of connections, particularly in One Big Self, a 2003 book that grew out of a collaboration with a photographer in the Louisiana prisons. It would be misleading to describe this book as a documentary poem, yet there is something of the documentary method in it. She includes quotes from different texts (even going back to Paul Verlaine and Oscar Wilde, great jailed poets of the nineteenth century), lots of quotes from prisoners she talked with, impressions from the roads and the advertising she saw around the prisons, and lyrical snatches from her own memory. Although there are no obvious links between the parts, there is an undeniable tone. As Wright begins her prefatory note, "Driving through this part of Louisiana you can pass four prisons in less than an hour. 'The spirit of every age,' writes Eric Schlosser, 'is manifest in its public works.' So this is who we are, the jailers, the jailed. This is the spirit of the age."

One Big Self is a passionate and angry book, but it is also an exciting journey of discovery. See how Wright follows a quote that could as easily be from a jailer as from one of the jailed with a lyrical moment and an aside, at once bitter and wry, that might be a bit of graffiti:

It sure enough gets old
the way we do things

Defend me if you can
Collect my tears if you will

G-o-d is the boss with the sauce
he's too sweet to be sour

Once we enter Wright's extraordinary imagination, these moments come together into a new shape that changes and expands our own perceptions of the world.

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