Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Every Riven Thing

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Every Riven Thing

Article excerpt

A gifted poet shares his moving struggle with questions of salvation, both physical and spiritual.

Many readers think they know Christian Wiman because they've seen

his work as editor of Poetry, the influential - and sometimes

controversial - magazine. Or they have read his haunting 2007 essay

"Into the Abyss," where he revealed the dire medical diagnosis he

received shortly after getting married.

Both those views are incomplete, which is why Every Riven Thing, his

third and best collection of poems yet, is so compelling and

important. The work here is searingly honest and beautifully crafted,

and it establishes Wiman in his most important public role: a gifted

poet whose work cannot be ignored.

Wiman's talent is apparent from the opening pages, as are his two

central struggles - with illness and faith. In "After the

Diagnosis," the second poem, he writes about an apple sapling that

had been blown "almost out of the ground" by harsh winds that

destroyed nearly everything around it. The image - a metaphor for

Wiman's situation - is poignant yet starkly hopeful, especially

at the end of the poem:

... all days come downto one clear panethrough which he seesamong

all the other treesthis leaning, clenched, unyielding onethat seems

castin the form of a blastthat would have killed it,as if something

at the heart of things,and with the heart of things,had willed it.

From there, Wiman moves to memories of Texas (where he grew up) and

people he knew who, like the tree, were gritty, tough, and had their

own unique splendor. In "Five Houses Down" Wiman describes the

hours he spent helping a neighbor who "salvaged" junk cars and

had a porch cluttered "with its oilspill plumage, tools/ cauled in

oil, the dark/ clockwork of disassembled engines/ christened Sweet

Baby and benedicted Old Bitch."

Wiman's ability to love the unconventional or unlovely is one of

the qualities that makes his work so memorable and, at times,

endearing. In "Sitting Down to Breakfast Alone," he recalls the

tough grace and earthy wisdom of a waitress at the Longhorn Diner.

She knew what to do - wordlessly - whenever one of the regulars

died and his friends struggled with the transition. The poet,

watching the drama unfold, understands her gesture, even as he looks

down at his own "plate's gleaming, teeming emptiness. …

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