Rest In Peace, Franz Wright

by Joan Houlihan

Franz Wright, who died last week, was a poet not only of great emotional power but one who meant a great deal to many poets who learned from him. He was hailed by critics as diverse as Helen Vendler and Stephen Burt for his great depth of feeling.

We asked the poet Joan Houlihan to give us her experience with both the man and the poet:

Franz Wright had an impact on many people in the Boston area, including me. I knew his poems first, then him. A fiercely intelligent, witty, and truly spiritual presence. When I met him he was volunteering his time at a Waltham hospital to help with grieving children who had lost a parent and also volunteering his time to help recovering addicts. He was always kind to me and supportive of my work. In 2000 I wrote an essay in which I cited his poem "Thoughts of a Solitary Farmhouse" as exemplary (I still love it, along with so many of Franz' poems). Around that time I hired him for a guest appearance in an online class I was teaching and also hired his wife, Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright, the brilliant translator, to be the translation editor on an online magazine I edited called Perihelion. When I started the Concord Poetry Center in 2004, Franz had just won the Pulitzer so I asked him to read there and help me launch it (which he did for a pittance).  He blurbed my first book and was very supportive of my work. I try always to keep in mind the kind, generous, and dedicated poet he was, and that so many of the poems he wrote changed me.

Thoughts of a Solitary Farmhouse

And not to feel bad about dying.
Not to take it so personally—

it is only
the force we exert all our lives

to exclude death from our thoughts
that confronts us, when it does arrive,

as the horror of being excluded— . . .
something like that, the Canadian wind

coming in off Lake Erie
rattling the windows, horizontal snow

appearing out of nowhere
across the black highway and fields like billions of white bees.

Rest in peace, Franz Wright.

Joan Houlihan is the author of four collections of poems. She is founder and director of the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference and she currently teaches part-time at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts and serves on the faculty of Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA program in Cambridge, Massachusetts.