D.H. Tracy’s damning review of C.D. Wright’s new book, Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (“Ten Takes,” June 2005) took me by surprise: Tracy condemns the book for exactly the same reason I found it so rewarding, a form that offers “standalone morsels of wisdom that, given the book’s looseness, necessarily come out of nowhere.” Perhaps a background in Renaissance literature led me to conclude that Cooling Time operates like a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century commonplace book rather than a linear, narrative collection. Commonplace books of this era were typically bound volumes of blank pages, filled with verse, prose, sententiae, letters, recipes, lists, transcriptions of other people’s work, and so forth, peculiar to an individual mind. They were often circulated, and early modern readers were adept and comfortable with the aphoristic, repetitive, and idiosyncratic qualities of such miscellanies. Wright’s collection follows the spirit of these books.
Early on in Cooling Time, Wright observes that “the search for models in my terms becomes a search for alternatives.” Tracy’s review left me wondering whether we, as readers necessarily conditioned by our times, are always able to appreciateor even apprehendan “alternative” vision when we come upon it. Perhaps we simply have forgotten how to read such texts. Perhaps, when we dismiss such alternatives out-of-hand, we squander the opportunity to learn from a mindand a voicethat outpaces our own.
Skull Valley, Arizona