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In The River of the Immaculate Conception, James Matthew Wilson confirms his vocation as a public poet. Commissioned by the Benedict XVI Institute, this poem sequence of seven parts leads us through the lives of St. Juan Diego, St. ­Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Père Marquette, with interludes on the interconnectedness of art, place, and theology.

One poem asks, “How does one make a song of holiness / Or speak of music without spoiling it?” Wilson’s answer is in what he calls “the gift of form.” Meter is not simply a gingering up of language. It is a mode of speech for those occasions when ordinary language is inadequate. It is incarnate thought. Wilson uses a broad palate of consonants and does not hesitate to invert syntax. To one unused to discursive poetry, these poems might seem like “mere verse,” but the high lyricism of “Gloriosa Dicta Sunt De Te,” the summit of the sequence, should settle any doubts.

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