Lives of the Animals

As noted elsewhere, much of what I’ve managed to write over the past few years has been animal-centric. When I showed some pieces recently to a former teacher and still-mentor of mine, he recommended a book by Robert Wrigley entitled Lives of the Animals. Because our themes are at times similar, I was keenly interested in reading the guy, but I found myself disappointed upon a first reading. I could tell he wrote skillfully and carefully; I knew that much of what he wrote was good. But it just didn’t resonate with me the way somebody like Andrew Hudgins does (especially in Saints and Strangers). I put the book down, a little disappointed.

The other day, a friend and former coworker whom I was talking to about doing some contract work for my company mentioned that he was involved with the Knoxville Writer’s Guild. I’ve known for years that the KWG was around but have never looked into the organization. Whether I neglected to do so because I figured they’d all be either hacks or schmoozers or just because I didn’t have time or energy I don’t know. At any rate, I perked up this time around and signed up for their mailing list. I almost immediately received notification of a reading by Marie Howe, one of whose books (What the Living Do) I had actually read in college. My reading the book started out as my thumbing through it because it had an interesting cover. I ultimately sat down and read it cover to cover, probably a couple of times. It’s a good book. Stoked at the prospect of going to the first reading I’ve been to in years, I wanted to read some more contemporary stuff, so I went back to Wrigley’s book the other night. And I liked it much more. It’s much stronger at the beginning and becomes a little droning toward the end.

Wrigley writes very tautly. There’s very little in his poems that doesn’t need to be there. And he writes with a sort of country elegance. I don’t mean that I fancy him to be a good ole Southern dandy but rather that he writes of the woods, of chasing snakes, of ticks on hunting dogs, of burning a dead horse, but he does so elegantly. His poems are smooth and flowing. They address rustic things but are themselves by and large not very rustic at all. It’s an interesting combination.

Wrigley writes in a very evocative way. Reading through the book, I felt constantly as if I was being reminded of things I had experienced. It eventually hit me that very few of the experiences he describes were ones I had first-hand knowledge of. In other words — and I think this captures one of the best things good poets do — he reminded me of things I hadn’t experienced as if they were very familiar to me, surely a testament to his talent at evocation and description.

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