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Triple Crown by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
reviewed by Ilka Scobie

Triple Crown: Sonnets
Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
Spuyten Duyvil


Jeff Wright’s lyrical liberties propel the traditional sonnet on a worldwide dash. Every poem is “Made in…” somewhere —beginning with China. In the second poem, “Made in Hong Kong,” the initial entreaty beckons with musical sophistication: anagrammatic words coupled in a double-beat rhyme scheme.

Come to me now, unkind whirlwind
Come to me now and unwind, wunderkind.

In “Made in Naples” a romantic incantation is at once triumphant and forlorn. Adding complexity, Wright throws in the homonym “bow.”

I watched her take a bow at the slam tonight
One more time, she hit on her true mark
and let fly an arrow to my still beating heart.

Ever the provocateur, Wright infuses a sly humour in his startlingly beautiful and offbeat imagery.

The forty-eight sonnets of “Triple Crown” are divided into three parts. Some lines repeat but not in the strict order of a conventional crown. Instead, recurring themes and topoi add structural cohesion. This sonnet garland adheres to the sensuous 14-line forms of Petrarch and Shakespeare while incorporating the innovative jump-cuts and punchy vernacular of Ted Berrigan (who Wright studied with).

Emily Brontë is Wright’s muse and consort and is often beside him as he wakes up again and again.

I woke at the end of a punch line
Emily, by my side, always happy to be alive.

Elsewhere, Brontë sits on a wasp’s nest, reads Konkueror protocol in a bikini, and is “drizzled with jizz.” Her nether regions are jazzily extolled: “Give me your fur-lined poon.” She even visits the Zinc Bar where Larry Fagin is quoting Chekov and the bartender is carding an underage kid nick-named Piper.

In this anachronistic present built on a literary past, Wright also hangs out with Apollo, Venus, and Astarte as well as with New York poets like Bernadette Mayer, Eileen Myles and David Shapiro. Pan-mythic in scope, Wright draws on Native American and Asian deities as well.

“Speak to me then, Gray Wolf
Let the moon hurl its guts across the sky
Ducks huddle-bobbing on glass river glance
No gate to stay forever shut
Unconsumed by the present I present the now
The Dusters tonight at Mongrel Hall
Let’s get hammered, Thor”

The function of imparting information has not always been absent from poetry. Wright recognizes the deep desire to read for knowledge as well as pleasure. Twenty pages of notes at the end provide the curious reader with lots of information about references in the poems, meandering from scientific terms to Emma Goldman quotes. Fusing geography with lexicology we can find out what many of the place names mean. We learn, for instance, that Cucamonga means “sandy place” in Shoshone.

Infused with beatnik bonhomie, Wright’s enthusiasm animates these pages. Included are his evocative collages, one of which first appeared in Live Mag!, Wright’s eclectic and excellent art and poetry magazine.

Though these sonnets are entitled with exotic locales, the poems resound with East Village élan. A long time downtowner, Wright is equally confident quoting mythology, technology and rock lyrics. He makes lemonade out of his lemons as he riffs on rejections from literary magazines and feels like “The jester making a cameo on the Jetsons” in “Made in Cheyenne.”

Triple Crown thrusts us into the urbane interior life of a true poet and pioneer, who juggles creativity with the quest for legal tender, romance with reality, and passion with pranks. This is a book to read through in a rush, to appreciate the soul and syncopation — and then at random, to re-read, digest and savor on multiple levels. Like a true post punk troubadour, Jeff Wright provokes and entertains, challenging readers to join his cosmic leap.

Ilka Scobie is a native New Yorker and long time downtown resident. She teaches poetry in the public schools and writes about contemporary art for London’s Artlyst. She is currently Associate Editor of LiVE MAG!

This review originally appeared in Pacific Rim Review of Books 21.