Once in the West

Once in the West

Several best poetry lists of the year include this seventh title by Christian Wiman, former editor of the well-renowned Poetry Magazine, who now teaches at Yale Divinity School.

His interest in theology and his experience as a person with a terminal disease bring a unique focus to his writing as these lines attest: “A soul / extrapolated // from the body’s / need // needs a body / of loss.”  In another poem “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians” he shows the power of the right words to hone in, “I tell you some Sundays even the children’s sermon / --maybe especially this—sharks your gut // like a bite of tin some beer-guzzling goat / either drunkenly or mistakenly decides to sample.”  

As he did in his memoir My Bright Abyss about life after a bone marrow transplant, Wiman dives deep. There is no surface skimming for him.  Several poems celebrate his

love for his family, a love that is tinged with future loss especially as seen in the long poem “Love is the Living Heart of Dread.”  In it, Wiman describes a visit to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium with his wife and two children:  “I floated   a moment // with my love and the two new lives / borne from us / who loved best / the eensy/ green / almost / unfish // more like the stars.”

But these poems are not without humor or hope.  Wiman is also adept at word play, including compound words such as “boodfine fins” and “natureless cerulean.” In “I don’t want to be alive anymore” he speaks of the “mindlice of insomnia.”

For the poet there is no time for hypocrisy. In “We Lived” he speaks of the “turned-deacon-turned-scourge of sin” who had an affair.

But death is the black cloud hanging over and also anchoring these poems. Or as Wiman says at the end of one poem, “Vanish the dancer and the dance remains / a time, an agile absence on the air.”

For poetry that will give you much to reflect, consider Wiman’s latest well-written collection.

   
Poetry