Investigative journalism is the poet’s realm when C.D. Wright returns to her native Arkansas and examines an explosive incident from the civil rights movement. Wright interweaves oral histories, hymns, lists, newspaper accounts, and personal memories—especially those of her incandescent mentor, Mrs. Vititow—with the voices of witnesses, neighbors, police, activists, and black students who were rounded up and detained in an empty public swimming pool. This history leaps howling off the page.
Here is one of several passages that reminded me: Wright’s a poet:
Long before this black and white issue, she said she was going to make up a coat of arms and the motto on its heater would read:
I never knew what misery was till I came to Arkansas
Why wake up in this torpor—unless you happen to be from here. Which requires less than volition. It requires only inertia.
Or blood ties, where everyone you ever knew or were kin to lies buried.
Or, the long-lingering olfaction of home, whether from the faint cut of walnuts spoiled in the grass or a sour work shirt on a rotted railing. When the ones who are from here come home in the evening and get out of their car, and rise on tired legs, the barbecued night they smell is theirs—that exact streaked sky, that turned dirt, that crape myrtle, that dog chained to the clothesline.