Wyatt Prunty is the author of six collections of poetry: The Times Between (1982), What Women Know, What Men Believe (1986), Balance as Belief (1989), The Run of the House (1993), Since the Noon Mail Stopped (1997), and Unarmed and Dangerous (1999); a study of contemporary poetry, “Fallen from the Symboled World”: Precedents for the New Formalism (1990); and the editor of an anthology, Sewanee Writers on Writing (2000). Born in 1947 in Humboldt, he attended the University of the South (Sewanee) and took advanced degrees at Johns Hopkins and Louisiana State Universities before eventually returning to Sewanee in 1989 as professor of English and director of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.
Elegant and meditative, Prunty’s poems find their subjects close to home. Player pianos, shortwave radios, and children waving from waterslides focus thought through language and act as signposts like the bent sapling in “The Elbow Tree,” saying, “This way, and you will not be lost.” His poems insist on order, seeking to create it where it does not yet exist, as in “A Family Portrait for Our Daughter,” where the speaker muses at its delivery, “Genetically, I’d mix you like Matisse / in a garden’s green concert of senses.”
There is a darker side as well. A number of poems examine grief, especially at moments when order can be crippling. In “What Doesn’t Go Away,” the speaker at his father’s deathbed can say only “concentrate on your breathing” instead of “I love you” and realizes his words are “an off-speed pitch / I’ll never retrieve.” Similarly, “Induced Light” explores “one pain’s power over another,” as a soldier at an interrogation gives answers “Wrong or desperately true . . . in a place / That no opposing figure will confirm.”