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Supper with the Infinite
Whether in a phone suddenly gone dead or the predawn serenity of a seaside town, silence carries power. It can be terrifying in emphasizing the absence of an other, or comfortable in an immense familiarity with an other requiring no communication. The silence of God amplifies both: the dreadful fear and alienation provoked by not hearing the Almighty, and the unspeakable peace and sublimity of being wordlessly in his presence. Both extremes are captured in Franz Wright's book of poems, God's Silence. When God's silence is terrifying, the poems reflect upon a painful past. When God's silence comforts, they celebrate in worshipful desire to linger in communion with him. In his most powerful poems, Wright evokes both types and the shift between the two, illuminating the tension between the silences.
Containing nearly a hundred poems in four sections, God's Silence follows Wright's 2003 Pultizer Prize-winning Walking to Martha's Vineyard and The Beforelife, published in 2000. Together these books constitute a trilogy of sorts, in which Wright's spiritual journey emerges as the defining theme. (If the term "spiritual" sounds imprecise, it nevertheless fits Wright's faith as expressed in his work, a faith which, though rooted in Catholicism, is neither orthodox nor outlandish but largely undefined and exploratory.) In The Beforelife (the book that sparked my serious interest both in Wright and in poetry itself), the poems convey an awakening into a spiritual life. Here he tastes the joyous astonishments of conversion and confronts painful regrets from the old life. Walking to Martha's Vineyard continues in this vein, more celebratory perhaps in expressing the beauties of a changed life yet still not shrinking from the past. God's Silence, with greater distance from the first rush of euphoria and guilt that accompanies conversion, is informed by a deeper spiritual maturity.
The opening poem, "East Boston, 1996," one of the book's strongest, begins with experiences of a troubled ...