Deepstep Come Shining

C. D. Wright
Copper Canyon Press ($14)

by Mark Nowak

“If I were not here; and I am alien; a bodyless eye; this would never have existence in human perception." So writes James Agee ("a spy, traveling as a journalist") about midway through Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a book (and a comment) central to any reading of C. D. Wright's compelling new volume, Deepstep Come Shining. For like Wright, Agee—a displaced Southerner working in the North—returns in this book to an "other" South (not his, or her, home state) and observes, spies, writes, imagines.

Spy. Eye. Wright. Sight. A literary surveyor/surveiller following "just a hypothetical blind woman brought out of complete darkness" on a Southern road trip in search of healing and sight, C. D. Wright becomes her characters' eyes. Like Agee, Wright's observing narrator can be apologetic: "I am sorry. I mean for no one to come to such harm. But vulnerability in a man. I find it very appealing. Forgive me. I do not mean to intrude . . ." Wright's narrator can also be brash: "Let's blow. I dare you to go in the bathroom in the student union with this neon magic marker and write: Bite me you big-balled boogie man." She can even riff on Agee's own lyricism: "What are you going to do when our lamps are out. / What are you going to do."

Readers of Deepstep Come Shining will see (through Wright's eyes) rural Southern culture, snippets of local conversations, trips to "the boneman" and "the snakeman," but always through a narrator never quite there; a narrator almost inevitably speaking in fragments; a narrator who will rarely pass a page or two without some covert or overt reference to her own subjectivity as a reader of Agee, Bakhtin, and Wittgenstein, a viewer knowledgeable of the early filmic experiments of the Lumière Brothers and contemporary innovative "visual" art from the likes of Akira Kurosawa, Deborah Luster, and Howard Finster.

And it's this that I most respect and appreciate about Deepstep Come Shining: to me, it signals one of the rare publications where a writer simultaneously "goes native" and "stays home" (Zora Neale Hurston's work is a seminal early example in this style). Denying her ties to neither the eccentricities of the rural South (which I'm afraid too many reviewers will focus almost exclusively on) nor academic/institutional life (the author is, after all, a professor at Brown University, a Guggenheim and NEA fellow, and former State Poet of Rhode Island), Wright melds these disparate voices, these fragments of her own polysubjectivity, into one of the most unique volumes of investigative, observational poetics to have been published in a very long time.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 1999 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 1999