This volume, Wright's eleventh book of poetry, is a vivid, contemplative, far-reaching, yet wholly plain-spoken collection of moments appearing as lenses through which to see the world beyond our moments. Chickamauga is also a virtuoso exploration of the power of concision in lyric poetrya testament to the flexible music of the long line Wright has made his own. As a reviewer in Library Journal noted: "Wright is one of those rare and gifted poets who can turn thought into music. Following his self-prescribed regimen of purgatio, illuminato, and contemplatio, Wright spins one lovely lyric after another on such elemental subjects as sky, trees, birds, months, and seasons. But the real subject is the thinking process itself and the mysterious alchemy of language: 'The world is a language we never quite understand.'"
In subject matter, many poems in the six varied-length sections here are akin to haiku: meditations that connect breaths of spirituality to pinpoints in time and space-details of a landscape, season, time of day. But Wright (who won the 1983 National Book Award for poetry) gives his observations a more intimate, personal turn with his conversational voice, which carries subtle King James Bible cadences in long lines swept in broken segments across the page. His concern here is ``the two-hearted sorrow of middle-age''; as his attention shifts from the works of T.S. Eliot and Lao Tzu, to a dwindling orchard, to memories of Italy, there is an underlying sense that some search is over, that objects or events once inspiring now simply add to ``the shadow that everything casts.'' Punctuating such sombre ruminations are images of sudden, fearsome flames: ``My life, this shirt I want to take off, which is on fire....'' The strain of these extremes often stretches the poetry to abstraction, but often, as in ``Expectantly empty, green as a pocket, the meadow waits/ For the wind to rise and fill it,'' the themes of absence and loss are measured in the precisely distilled images for which Wright is known. (Apr.)