The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers
The Mother of Love Emulates the Shapes of Cynthia
t really depends on how they teach poetry these days. Some will tell you to go ahead and liquidate your heart, pour it through the shaft in your pen, spill it on the page, tear into grammar, syntax, and language as it suits you, recede into your own opaque moods and bring a flashlight and some vellum. Speak in the private language of feeling to the public--that’s what makes you special. On the other side of things, they’ll tell you to stay out of it, to never confess, to depersonalize everything, to render some commonly understandable topic both accessible yet distinct. From this latter perspective, true strains of sensitivity shine in the absence of the particulars of strict originality and confession. Durham, North Carolina’s Perry Wright, the brainchild of The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers, falls into the latter camp, his latest indie-chamber-rock cycle chronicling, season-by-season, the yearlong romance between a man and a married woman.
If there’s anything that’s off-putting about Wright, it’s that he has the tendency towards some affective scatology, lapsing into self-overconfidence and stifling earnestness. Still, those detractors shouldn’t be confused with their more aggravated manifestations self-indulgence or utter juvenility, which often mar Wright’s clumsier aesthetic peers, whose blubbering fragility masquerades as raw sensitivity. Wright has more reserve, consideration, distance, and intelligence than that, and even the shades of his stark faux-rusticisms are tempered by a kind of delicate quirkiness and overall sense of detachment largely absent from bleeding heart set. Sure, he’s is into soul-bearing, but comparisons to musicians like Bright Eyes seem specious and flimsy--those torch-bearers always feel like the withered hero in their own narratives, and while Wright’s less articulate moments fall into blank universalizing of woe-is-me-ism, his ability and willingness to tackle his stories in a multi-perspectival way (i.e. the man, the woman, and her husband) makes The Mother of Love feels more like an exercise than an exorcism.
In general, The Mother of Love’s revelations come during its spare, glistening moments. The plaintive, smeared eyeliner rave-ups just don’t suit Wright’s talents, and the more abysmally anonymous “modern rock” numbers (“The Eventual Intimate of So Much Nostalgia,” or “Ammunition for a Bolt-Action Heart”) feel like lead-footed missteps. Just like real life, Fall is one of the most magical seasons on this record, seeping weakly in with the anthemic weariness of “Cannot Eat Better Not Sleep,” which, despite the unclear intentions in turning to the glowing aesthete’s carnival of bearing witness to your own emotional catastrophes as fucked-uppedly gorgeous and tragically unavoidable-a real AA-style entry-level narcissism-manages to gorgeously suck itself into a pre-climactic oblivion with the pop-wisdom shattering line, re: wounds: “someone told you time repairs it, I said no, it just forgets it, and I need you to remember who I am,” showing again, that Wright’s keeping enough above water to write a lyric that both sympathizes and turns a trick.
Early December brings us the fading autumn light of “Disposable Drummers in Disposable Bands,” a narcotic and sullen gaze from the perspective of the knowingly cuckolded husband, sick with confused sentiments, aching for his wife to come home, but hoping her to catch turning memories to ash in the fire with his wedding ring heating defiantly in the middle. “The Sad Lives of the Hollywood Lovers” wrestles the most bitter denials with cold, shaking hands, showing the sinning couple lying in a hotel bed as she twists with despair at unspoken thoughts of her husband: “we’d watch a movie about what a lover should be, and you’d cry out contradictions,” wrapping up poignantly the pain of recognizing one’s own hypocrisies.
It’s tenuous, of course, to assume that Wright isn’t the protagonist of his own songs. Such prolonged stretches of emotional catastrophe, however, are never as tidy as Wright ties it, and the depictions are rarely as omniscient, sliding from the wife, to the husband, to the third man. That said, what Wright makes up for in intention and ambition, he lacks a little in consistency, and while his lyrical vision shines on lip-biting interpersonal analogs such as “god knows we all tried; but radio still died,” The Mother of Love, shows a development more than an arrival, a writer whose aesthetic plan bears high highs and low lows, but has yet to coalesce into a distinct, moving, and consistent narrative.