Franz Wright, prize-winning poet, dead at 62

AP News
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Posted: May 15, 2015 2:45 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Franz Wright, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet known for his concise and penetrating style and heartbreaking command of emotions, has died. He was 62.

Wright died Thursday at his home in Waltham, Massachusetts, of lung cancer, publisher Alfred A. Knopf said Friday.

Born in Vienna and raised in California after his parents divorced, Wright was the son of fellow Pulitzer winner James Wright, making them the only father and son to win in the same category. Franz Wright, cited in 2004 for "Walking to Martha's Vineyard," inherited his father's talents, and his demons. In interviews and in his work, he confessed to emotional and physical struggles that stemmed at least in part from his parents' breakup.

"Franz wrote fearlessly about mental illness, addiction, and loneliness, as well as about faith and the unending beauty of his world, no matter how broken; he never wrote a line that wasn't fiercely important to him, musical, as witty as it was deadly serious," Wright's editor at Knopf, Deborah Garrison, said in a statement. "Franz lived for poetry — at times it seemed it kept him alive."

James Wright, who died in 1980, survived a childhood of poverty to become one of his generation's most revered poets. His son was a tortured admirer. In "Flight," Franz Wright recalled turning his father into a kind of god, simultaneously absent and ever-present. In grade school, he attended a public appearance by James Wright, who "shyly approached" and shook the hand of his son.

"Since you left me at eight I have always/been lonely," Franz Wright wrote.

Wright had fond and vivid memories of such elder poets as Robert Bly, Galway Kinnell and W.S. Merwin, and also was inspired by the music of his childhood, including the Beatles and the Grateful Dead. He was still attending Oberlin College when his debut collection, "Tapping the White Cane of Solitude," was released in 1976. His other books included "God's Silence," ''The Beforelife" and translations of Rainer Maria Rilke. After publishing through the 1990s with small presses, he was signed by Knopf and achieved wider recognition.

In recent years, terminal cancer became his muse. He was hospitalized while working on the 2013 release, "F," in which he declared: "I've said all that / I had to say. / In writing. / I signed my name. / It's death's move."