Pain, Prayer, Poetry: An Interview with Christian Wiman

By Frykholm, Amy | The Christian Century, April 19, 2011 | Go to article overview

Pain, Prayer, Poetry: An Interview with Christian Wiman


Frykholm, Amy, The Christian Century


CHRISTIAN WIMAN is a poet and editor of Poetry magazine in Chicago. His most recent book of poems, Every Riven Thing, was published last fall by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Why did you become a poet?

Some existential glitch in my brain, I guess--some soulwound, some little abyss at birth. You look up one day to find that you're addicted to playing with language and that the glitches and wounds and abysses of your brain seem to be soothed by that. You never really become a poet, though. It's an ideal definition, always as elusive as the next poem.

What about your background--growing up in Texas, for example-helped

you in the process of becoming a poet and what hindered you?

It was great to grow up in a storytelling culture, and in one that was, at least then, still so close to the earth. It had an intellectual rift between heaven and earth, body and spirit, and it took me a long time to get past that (maybe I'm still not completely past it). And maybe I'd have benefited from having a few books in the house. But overall I'd say that the flatlands of west Texas are as good a place as any to become a poet.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Can you recall an early encounter with a poem that got you interested?

I don't recall reading any poetry before I went to college other than that in the Bible. Certainly I didn't know there was such a thing as a living poet. I trace the moment when poetry's arrow struck and stayed in me to an afternoon in Oxford when I was on a summer fellowship. I had bought a book that had selections of Yeats and Eliot in one volume. The sounds electrified me--and just that, sound, for I understood little of what I was reading. Those sounds released something in me too--a tight knot of existential tension I hadn't even known was there. There was no looking back.

What effect, if any, has your recent turn to Christianity had on your poetry?

I hope my poetry has been utterly changed. It's the same voice, the same style, and I don't really think I turned to Christianity so much as assented to a faith that had long been latent within me. (I think this faith, often expressed as a lack, is everywhere in the earlier work.) But now there is more air in the poems, they veer into directions that in the past I probably would have closed off, and they are more open to simple praise and outright joy.

As someone who reads hundreds of poems monthly for Poetry magazine, you are perhaps uniquely qualified to speak about the state of poetry more broadly. Where is the zeitgeist of con temporary poetry?

I think poetry is largely in a holding pattern, trying to figure out what it wants to be, or what it needs to be as the culture-economic, spiritual--collapses around it. For decades there has been a premium on language as subject, and more recently many poems present an ironclad irony that mirrors the culture's death mask.

What do I see now? Poets trying to find their way out of this, trying to find some way of speaking of "ultimate things" with some sort of credibility. It is already happening.

What contemporary poets do you think CHRISTIAN CENTURY readers should know about? Can you name some important poets who might not be on our radar screens yet?

I still read anything new by Richard Wilbur, Seamus Heaney, Geoffrey Hill or Kay Ryan. I think Anne Carson's "The Glass Essay" is one of the best poems of the second half of the 20th century. Among younger or less-established poets, Ilya Kaminsky, Atsuro Riley, Don Paterson and Laura Kasischke have all written original and beautiful books. And if you're willing to search the Internet to find some poems by poets who don't yet have books, look for Note Klug or Averill Curdy. And of course, look in Poetry magazine, where you can find all of these poets.

For some people, writing is a kind of prayer--a meditation on experience, under God, about the deepest questions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Pain, Prayer, Poetry: An Interview with Christian Wiman
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.