James Wright (1927–80) was born the same year as Galway Kinnell and W. S. Merwin and two years before Adrienne Rich. Like them, he made his debut on the American poetry scene with lyrics in traditional stanza patterns. Also like these poets, and numerous others in the 1950s and 1960s, he soon abandoned the consistent use of rhyme and meter. Robert Lowell, born a decade before Wright, found his way to the comparatively free-verse idiom of Life Studies (1959) by burrowing inward. Though M. L. Rosenthal, the critic who coined the term “confessional poetry,” never saw a dime in royalties, he must have derived satisfaction from the rapid pace at which Lowell adopted this new mode. Remaking his own style, Wright, too, burrowed inward, clearing a path for sunlight to enter his darkest places, for myth to bloom in the arid Ohio Valley and factory towns of his...


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