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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Number 299: Franz Wright "The Mailman"

The Mailman

From the third floor window
you watch the mailman’s slow progress
through the blowing snow.
As he goes from door to door

he might be searching
for a room to rent,
unsure of the address,
which he keeps stopping to check

in the outdated and now
obliterated clipping
he holds, between thickly gloved fingers,
close to his eyes

in a hunched and abruptly
simian posture
that makes you turn away,
quickly switching off the lamp.

--Franz Wright

Hap Notes: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz Wright (born 1953) was born in Vienna and is the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Wright (who was on a Fulbright scholarship there at the time.) They are the only parent and child to have won this award separately and one suspects it might be a while until that record is broken. Despite his upbringing amidst some of the iconic poets of the last century, and their cautionary examples, Wright has had to fight similar demons and is a recovering alcoholic/addict/manic-depressive.

Wright, a graduate of Oberlin College, has been the recipient of several fellowships as well as the PEN/Voelcker Prize for poetry in addition to his Pulitzer. His poetry usually deals with vulnerability; often about the inevitable conflicts with his dad or crawling back to life from addictions and breakdowns.

Read today's poem closely. The postman, we know, is not actually searching for a home, so who is? Why would the sight of a man, looking "hunched" and "simian" make someone turn away, turn off the light? What is going on? Fear? Repugnance? Denial? All three? How does that postman's tortuously slow progress, with an "outdated clipping," make the observer feel? Confused? Alone? Reading this poem with compassion, who are we more concerned for, the postman or the observer?

Side note: You know that expression " "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" for the post office? People often say it is the motto or creed or pledge of the U.S. Post Office. It is not. The Post Office has no official "motto" or "slogan." The quotation, written on the side of the James Farley Post Office in New York City, is from Herodotus' Histories and refers to the couriers of ancient Persia. By the by, if you have never read Herodotus' seminal work (it's a good read and is considered the first "study" of history, it is available here, free: If you don't think you have the time to read it, you can listen to it here, free: If you can't handle THAT (and now I'm getting a tad disgusted, sorry) you can read a summary of each chapter here: It's a rousing tale and it is as true as a history book ever is.

Here's a good Franz Wright quote: "When I write now, I feel like someone who came back from the dead."


"All true poets are visionaries and experience oceanic instances of seamless mingling with the infinite in the face of everyday things (astronomical perceptions, as Blake and Lorca put it, in the contemplation of very small concrete things; or as Flannery O'Conner said, only in and through sense experiences does a writer approach a contemplative knowledge of the mysteries they embody); and of course poetry, of all arts, is the most moral if we keep Kant's definition of morality in mind, as that act for which no possibility of compensation really exists. There is nothing to be gained from writing poetry (and everything to lose, come to think of it) if it is truly taken seriously." see the whole interview here:

You can find more Franz Wright here:

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