I’ve made no secret of my Poetry Foundation fandom. Poetry Off the Shelf is my favorite podcast since the invention of… podcasts (with the POETRY Magazine Podcast a close 2nd); their website and the Harriet blog are permanently bookmarked browser fixtures; and I’ve been reading POETRY pretty religiously for about 4 years.
Maybe admitting such an appreciation for this ubiquitous poetry institution is like saying you’re a fan of the U.S.P.S. or the Olympics, but unlike the postal service, the Poetry Foundation delivers consistently great content on-time, and far more frequently than the Olympics.
Deep as my appreciation is, I’d never actually read anything by anyone on the POETRY Magazine editorial staff. I guess after hearing the voices of Christian Wiman and Don Share month after month I didn’t want to risk having any illusions (or projections) shattered. After all, those who can’t do– they teach, right? (or EDIT)!!!
Anyway, I was visiting my parents last weekend and we decided to stop into a Barnes & Noble after eating dinner at (wait for it…) The Olive Garden! Yes- it was an evening spent in celebration of the consistency of corporate chains. The bottomless salad never disappoints, and Barnes & Noble ALWAYS carries the most recent issue of POETRY Magazine. So I bought it; and then decided to investigate the shelves of their poetry section (normally a giant disappointment after growing accustomed to Powell’s).
But this time I found a book I’d not come across before, Christian Wiman’s latest collection every riven thing. So for the past few days I’ve been making my way through that book along with the February issue of the magazine Wiman edits; and I was surprised to find that both delve deep into matters of spirituality, faith, belief, religion, and all those other words poets generally prefer to talk their way around when discussing “God” in this post-secular age (a term borrowed from the latest POETRY Magazine podcast to describe February’s themed issue).
It’s clear from his poetry that Wiman has wrestled with issues of faith, or at least, ya know, how ‘God-the-idea’ has lorded over us mortal creatures. In fact, I think the word “God” makes almost more appearances in his collection than the definitive article. He has a very direct, unashamed approach to the subject, but his thoughts on spirituality are all the things you’d hope they’d be: subtle, complex, conflicted, challenging, both violent and acquiescent, and full of doubt.
As a reader, I’ve had quite a few “Holy Shit” moments this week, especially while making my way through every riven thing, and I wanted to share some of the lines that I liked best. It’s hardly fair to inflict this kind of amputation on a poem, but hell, I’m gonna do it anyway. Why? I thought it was worth showing how a few writers (and one in particular) were able to find new ways of using clear language to wrestle with this wide-open subject.
So, here are some great lines about God from Christian Wiman’s every riven thing and from the February, 2012 issue of POETRY Magazine. I’m limiting this to only lines that contain the word “God,” excluding many beautiful passages about communion, spiritual rage, angels, saints, miracles, devils, sin, and such. If you don’t like the lines on their own, it’s my fault– you’d probably love them in context, un-riven:
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
-from “Every Riven Thing” by Christian Wiman
I’m tired of the gods, I’m pious about the ancestors: afloat
In the wake widening behind me in time, the restive devisers.
-from “Creole” by Robert Pinsky
My God my grief forgive my grief tamed in language
to a fear that I can bear.
Make of my anguish
more than I can make. Lord, hear my prayer.
- from “This Mind of Dying” by Christian Wiman
Consumptive and small country parish-bound,
wrote that struggle must be the same as resolution,
as faith itself, while he suffocated in his sad minister’s bed,
for years arguing with God and himself. It’s the uglier
business, willing yourself from despair to belief.
-from “‘The Altar’ by George Herbert”" by Connie Voisine (yes, that’s the name of the poem)
To believe is to believe you have been torn
from the abyss, yet stand waveringly on its rim.
(and later from the same poem)
I do not know how to come closer to God
except by standing where a world is ending
for one man. It is still dark,…
- from “One Time” by Christian Wiman
We cannot sleep in the wake of God, & God will not sleep
The infant dream for long. We lift the blinds, look out into ink
For light. My God, my God, open the spine binding our sight.
-from “Compline” by Philip Metres
For I am come a whirlwind of wasted things
and I will ride this tantrum back to God
until my fixed self, my fluorescent self
my grief-nibbling, unbewildered, wall-to-wall self
withers in me like a salted slug
-from “And I Said to My Soul, Be Loud” by Christian Wiman
wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
that is open enough to receive it,
shatter me God into my thousand sounds…
-from “Small Prayer in a Hard Wind” by Christian Wiman
Lord, suffer me to sing
these wounds by which I am made
and marred, savor this creature
whose aloneness you ease and are.
-from “Lord is Not a Word” by Christian Wiman
Sometimes one has the sense
that to say the name
God is a great betrayal,
but whether one is betraying
God, language, or one’s self
is harder to say.
-from “Gone for the Day, She is the Day” by Christian Wiman
Don’t worry about betrayals too much, Christian. God would appreciate the effort. Either that, or we’re all doomed anyway. I like to believe the former.