Poetry, Art and Religion: My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman

Posted by: Bill Pearlman
Published on April 3rd, 2013 @ 12:42:00 pm , using 344 words
Category: Commentary, Reviews

In a NY Times review of Poetry Magazine editor Christian Wiman's new memoir of cancer survival with the help of faith (My Bright Abyss),  Dwight Garner takes an honest look at the questions Wiman raises about religion, art and the meaning of life.  I take the following sentences from the review:


Hurt, fury and fear have concentrated this man’s prose. Mr. Wiman lays bare that moment no one hopes to confront soon, “when death leans over to sniff you, when massive unmetaphorical pain goes crawling through your bones, when fear — goddamn fear, you can’t get rid of it — ices your spine.”

Religion wasn’t a new presence in the author’s life. He’d grown up Baptist in a “flat little sandblasted town” in West Texas. He abandoned his faith for decades, only to find it sneaking back after his marriage.

Not long after he learned of his cancer, “from a curt voice mail message,” he began dropping into the United Church of Christ building down the block from where he lived.

“My Bright Abyss” works both sides of the tracks — the intellectual and the mystical — in its considerations of faith. Mr. Wiman hashes through the work of great poets of religious feeling (George Herbert, W. B. Yeats, Geoffrey Hill), as well as that of Christian intellectuals like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Tillich and Simone Weil.

He can be cutting about recent American poetry and its vanities. He fears we are “spinning our best energies into esoteric language games.” He is thundersome about poetic striving: “So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence on existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt, and you are pursuing a ghost.”

He no longer has time for a poet like Robert Lowell, who, he says, “had such a tremendous imagination for language but so little for other people.” More humane poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Lorine Niedecker, he observes, “seem to be throwing me lifelines from their graves.”

He has arrived at a belated awareness that “life is a hell of a lot more difficult — and important — than art.”


1 comment

Comment from: Lydia Moore [Visitor]
I now know what kind of poetry Mr. Wiman likes. Many of Poetry's editors did not share his view of faith and religion. His point about 'language games' is correct, however. Though I do not share his view of religion, it obviously served him in his terible condition.
04/03/13 @ 12:53