Personal poetry from a resident writer

“Shenandoah” contributor William Wright expresses his fear of ferns and personal struggles in his poetry

Photo courtesy of W&L website.

Photo courtesy of W&L website.

Sutton Travis

Poet William Wright took the podium in Hillel House planning to discuss one of his deepest, darkest childhood fears: hanging ferns.

As an assistant editor for “Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review,” Wright shared a reading, followed by a Q&A session and book signing, on Nov. 2. The event was presented by W&L’s Glasgow Endowment and “Shenandoah.”

Wright first began submitting poems to “Shenandoah” five years ago. As his submissions continued, he also began to write reviews for the journal.

“I invited him to join my little cadre of contributing editors, writers with whom I confer and whose opinions I value,” Rod Smith, “Shenandoah” editor and W&L Writer in Residence, said. “He continued to write reviews, and about a year ago I asked him if he’d be willing to assume the more active role of assistant editor.”

After reading “Ferns,” a poem based upon his fear from ages five to 28 of potted ferns that hang on porches, Wright transitioned to his poem entitled “Blue Pear,” which focuses on one of his experiences in his struggle with hypnagogic sleep paralysis.

Sleep paralysis is a condition in which a person experiences consciousness while in the stages of falling asleep, yet is unable to move or speak.

Students from various English classes attended the reading to learn more about the creative process, especially Wright’s technique of incorporating personal elements into his writing.

“I normally struggle to attribute significance to poetry, so I enjoyed hearing what the poems represented and the author’s thought process during them,” Ethan Markman, ‘18, said. “I thought ‘Blue Pear’ was especially interesting because I never would have known the basis for that poem unless I had heard it from the author.”

Several of Wright’s other writings that he shared also stemmed from personal experiences, like “Furnace and Fox,” based upon an encounter with a fox that helped his father cope with his divorce, while other pieces were more contemplation-based, such as “Flowers in a Northern Field.”

Wright concluded the reading with “Creature Comfort” and “Winter Oaks,” which he introduced as two of his poems concentrating on depression.

“I went through some pretty severe depression,” Wright said. “I wrote poems not to amplify it or even to try to investigate it, but to try to fight it off.”

Wright, who is currently working on the multi-volume series “The Southern Poetry Anthology” with Texas Review Press, also spoke to Smith’s Internship in Literary Editing class about his life as a professional freelance writer and editor.

“He does professionally a lot of the tasks my students are learning about, and I thought he’d be a great choice to bring in to speak with my class,” Smith said. “It’s valuable for the students to hear from someone just a dozen years their senior on some of the topics they’re often hearing from me, the local ancient mariner. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a meticulous and musical poet whose work I enjoy.”

Wright will serve as the guest writer in residence at the University of Tennessee in spring 2016. More information on his work can be found at