In honor of World Poetry Day, I’m sharing my favorite poem, the one that made me want to write poetry, ‘Entry in an Unknown Hand’, by Franz Wright.
I first read this as a Xerox’ed handout in my first Creative Writing class. I took this class after a year spent as a relatively successful Computer Science student, feeling intensely unfulfilled about what I was doing with my life. After the campus literary journal took a couple of my dreadfully awful poems, I felt inspired and switched my major to English, much to the horror of my parents who, to their credit, were supportive of me following my passion at the cost of anything resembling job security. I was very fortunate to encounter the poet, editor, and teacher David Dodd Lee, who introduced me to the work of Franz Wright and many other poets that remain my biggest inspirations and influences (including Lee himself). This was quite literally the first poem we read in that class, and was the first contemporary poem I had ever read in my life. Like most I had never really thought about poetry since reading Shakespearean sonnets in high school and simply didn’t know that people still wrote it outside of Hallmark cards.
This poem by Franz was an immediate and lasting wake-up call, hitting notes of loneliness, self-deprication, anger, sadness, bitterness, sarcasm, wit, and so much more, that resounded with me very deeply. Simply put, reading this poem both enlightened me that not only was poetry still being written but it was (often) poetry divested of end rhymes and overly sentimental tone. Poetry could be vulnerable, angry, biting, wan, funny, brutal, hopeful. It was for me a singular moment of ‘I love this, I want to read more of this, I want to write this, I want to be in conversation with whatever this is as often as I can for as long as I can’.