Christian Wiman’s Riven Verse

“There are keener griefs than God. / They come quietly, and in plain daylight, / Leaving us with nothing, and the means to feel it.”

-Christian Wiman, “This Mind of Dying”

Though this year’s edition of Poetry International is packed with poetic delights, the portfolio section on Christian Wiman knocked me out. Though the name sounded familiar, I recalled little of Wiman, except I suspected that by admitting this publicly, I would be admitting a hefty dose of ignorance. (My instincts here were right; turns out he’s the editor of Poetry. I even quoted one of his essays in a post I wrote last year.)

But the upside of ignorance is an untainted first impression, and here is mine: that I found a poet unabashedly touching upon God with neither irony nor simple-mindedness, sounding out complex and compact verse with intoxicating musicality. Here, I thought, is a modern Gerard Manley Hopkins completely unafraid to strike his note.

Here also, I thought, in fact, are the kind of poems I might one day write myself if I knew I did not have much more time to live. With this strange thought fresh in mind, I Googled Wiman, mostly to see if I could pre-order his third book, Every Riven Thing. Instead I discovered an article in The American Scholar, wherein he describes how falling in love and, soon after, being diagnosed with a terminal disease led him back to the fierce new kind of poetry now resting in my lap.

I was led back to poetry by the love and death of our infant son. And from here I deepened my commitment to my spiritual studies, as well as my poetry, as a way to survive the sometimes crushing grief. And yet I must ask myself: why wouldn’t I write this fiercely, and openly, about the grandeur and mystery of my own riven cosmology, complete with its epistemological ruptures and transcendent griefs and joys? Reading Wiman spurs me forward in this way.

And so, I have just ordered his aptly titled Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet from Powell’s Books, and will await the release of Every Riven Thing with interest. Meanwhile, for those curious, two of Wiman’s poems are available in the online edition of Harvard Divinity Bulletin (Winter 2008). At this stage, all I can say is “thank you,” first to Wiman for making spiritual music in a medium obsessed with secular speech, and second to my own naive instincts, which led me to this personally significant new vein of gold.