Every Riven Thing
by Christian Wiman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 93 pages, $24
Christian Wiman is a poet of spiritual suffering in search of transfiguration. He makes no allegory of this impulse but tells it mostly straight, making him one of the preeminent devotional poets of any faith now writing in English. He has been famous for some time as a poet, critic, and editor (of Poetry, America’s preeminent journal of poetry), but it is Every Riven Thing, his third volume of poems, that contains his strongest work to date.
Wiman has written eloquently in prose about falling passionately in love in his late thirties, his subsequent diagnosis with a rare cancer, and his rediscovery of faith. In the new poems we find a corresponding tempering of suffering with the work of love and the consciousness of joy. The best poems in Every Riven Thing—and the best ones are very good—now flash bright wings. Even in poems about ordinary experience, there is a shining sense of purpose that appeared less frequently in the past.
In the more expansive poems in the book, Wiman often turns directly to his God in ways that few of our best poets are willing to do, even if they are believers. He has reached a point where he is prepared to take this risk and has found a language in which to do so. If one says the fine details of the theology don’t matter—and they are kept intentionally blurry—it is not to assert that theology is unimportant but, rather, to say that these poems achieve what the poet appears to have sought from the beginning: a mode of prayer that is personal and yet unpretentiously public in the way it invites readers to overhear parts of that silent dialogue. Wiman has become a poet who, by acknowledging his sorrow, gives us the gift of being the better able to contemplate our own, whatever we may believe.
David J. Rothman directs the Poetry Concentration in the MFA program at Western State College of Colorado.