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Charles Wright

Gate City Breakdown


Like a vein of hard coal, it was the strike

We fantasized, the pocket of sure reward we sidestepped the roadblocks


In southwest Virginia , seemed in its hillside

Above the North Form of the Holston River.


One afternoon before Christmas

In 1953, we crossed the bridge from Tennessee on a whiskey run,

Churchill and Bevo Hammond and Philbeck and I,

On the backroad where they chased us, we left Sheriff’s Patrol in

            their own dust,

And washed ours down with Schlitz on the way home.


Jesus, it’s so ridiculous, and full of self-love,

The way we remember ourselves,

                                                and the dust we leave…


Remember me as you will, but remember me once

Slide-wheeling around the curves,

                                                 letting it out on the other side of the line.


-from Gate City Breakdown 

BIO: Charles Wright was born in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee, in 1935 and was educated at Davidson College and the University of Iowa of Iowa. Chickamauga, his eleventh collection of poems, won the 1996 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. His other books include Buffalo Yoga (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004); Negative Blue (2000); Appalachia (1998); Black Zodiac (1997), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; The World of the Ten Thousand Things: Poems 1980-1990; Zone Journals (1988); Country Music: Selected Early Poems (1983), which won the National Book Award; Hard Freight (1973), which was nominated for the National Book Award; and two volumes of criticism: Halflife (1988) and Quarter Notes (1995). His translation of Eugenio Montale's The Storm and Other Poems (1978) was awarded the PEN Translation Prize. His many honors include the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit Medal and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In 1999 he was elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. He is Souder Family Professor of English at the University of Virginia of Virginia in Charlottesville.

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