Charles Wright is the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize and a former poet laureate of the United States. Oblivion Banjo is a distillation of his long career for devout fans and newcomers alike.
The resulting 'country music' is the distinct twang of one mind, remarkably constant despite sometimes audacious changes of form. A prose poem, a sprawling free-verse composition, and a sequence of economical sestets: they sound little like one another, but they all sound like Wright ... Because these poems are both progressive and recursive, the present moment, with its 'armchair and omelette,' is already hoary. Nothing in Wright’s work is ever new ... Once time is set up this way, we become contemporaries of our own ancestors. At moments, Wright’s work feels like an enormous, timeless front porch, where long-lost friends like Lao Tzu drop by ... Wright’s later poems attain visionary intensities, fusing belief and deflation. His gregarious asceticism—asceticism over drinks, as it were—bears traces of Dante, St. Ignatius, Augustine, and the Buddha ... A book this huge had better be excellent company. Wright—with his sometimes cantankerous affection, his sympathy for the reader who has, as he has, seen and heard this all before—is profoundly companionable. Within the repetitive cycles of his verse we find the loveliest surprises.
Even as a purely physical object Oblivion Banjo is hefty, impressive. But the purely physical has never been what this particular poet is about. In Wright’s cosmos, the material is permeated with the spiritual, the physical with the philosophical. Everything is what it is, and a whole lot else besides ... Wright’s poetry is driven by a trembling wonder before existence, and by a profound sense of mortality: that is, an attachment to things past and present, things experienced in the light of our knowledge that every object is singular, that every event, once it is over, is over absolutely ... spacious, impulsively wandering poems that create their own shapes as they go, rather than playing by the rules of established forms.
... a complex theater of images where the world appears strange yet cherished in Wright’s verse ... It’s appropriate that memories are treated as monadic quantities in Oblivion Banjo; Wright employs the past to create poetic moments in which he toys with his reader’s senses. The collection is neatly bound ... A kind of grappling occurs in Wright’s poems because of his many influences. Speaker and place intersect, only to be wrested apart by memory; place and God entwine, until God exits. It makes one wonder: if 'poetry is the fiction we use to prove the fact,' is there truth within Oblivion Banjo? It may only be a subjective one for both poet and reader: a line that rings the bell of memory, a turn of phrase that hurts too closely, a metaphor suggestive of a secret joy ... Happy and without a name for everything — every moment — Wright has a manner of knowing uncertainty. As he’s done throughout his career, he leaves his reader wondering what language can aspire toward: how poetry unties the tongue-tied muse of memory.