“Wright has found a way to wed fragments of an iconic America to a luminously strange idiom, eerie as a tin whistle, which she uses to evoke the haunted quality of our carnal existence.”—The New Yorker
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Inspired by numerous visits inside Louisiana state prisons—where MacArthur Fellow C.D. Wright served as a “factotum” for a portrait photographer—One Big Self bears witness to incarcerated men and women and speaks to the psychic toll of protracted time passed in constricted space. It is a riveting mosaic of distinct voices, epistolary pieces, elements from a moralistic board game, road signage, prison data, inmate correspondence, and “counts” of things—from baby’s teeth to chigger bites:
Count your folding money
Count the times you said you wouldn’t go back
Count your debts
Count the roaches when the light comes on
Count your kids after the housefire
One Big Self—originally published as a large-format limited edition that featured photographs and text—was selected by The New York Times and The Village Voice as a notable book of the year. This edition features the poem exclusively.
C.D. Wright is the author of ten books of poetry, including several collaborations with photographer Deborah Luster. She is a professor at Brown University.