wiman

Christian Wiman

Award Winning Poet & Essayist
Former Editor of Poetry Magazine

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Poetry, Prayer, and the Limits of Devotion
  • Rethinking the Language of Faith
  • Modern Anxiety and the Meaning of Faith
  • Anti-Devotional Devotional Poetry
  • Facing God in the Face of Death
  • Literary Editing in the Digital Age
  • On Translating Osip Mandelstam
  • Robert Frost and Religious Belief
  • What “Form” Means in the Wake of Modernism


“The best thing to say about Wiman is not that he reminds you of previous poets: it’s that he makes you forget them.”-Clive James

“One of the preeminent devotional poets of any faith now writing in English.” -David Rothman

“Christian Wiman is fiercely dedicated to describing experiences for which there are no words. Few contemporary poets invite us to consider new ways of looking at those experiences as openly, intensely, and originally as he does.”-TriQuarterly

Christian Wiman is Senior Lecturer in Religion and Literature at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and was editor of Poetry Magazine from 2003 to 2013. He is a recipient of both the Ruth Lilly and Wallace Stegner fellowships and has produced four published books of poetry, two collections of essays, and his most recent work, a memoir, My Bright Abyss. In The New Yorker, poet and critic Dan Chiasson chose Wiman’s Every Riven Thing as one of the 11 best poetry collections of 2010. Wiman’s other works include The Long Home (Nicholas Roerich Prize), Hard Night, and Stolen Airtranslations of Osip Mendelstam (Ecco, 2012). His fifth book of poetry, Once in the West, will be published this Fall by FSG.

A native of West Texas, Wiman graduated from Washington and Lee University and later taught at Stanford, Yale, Northwestern, and the Prague School of Economics. During his editorship of Poetry, the magazine’s circulation has tripled and its influence widened around the world. A strong believer in the magazine’s famous, 100-year-old “Open Door” policy, Wiman has consistently published formalists alongside experimentalists, as well as greatly expanding the range of prose in the back of the magazine. In 2011 Poetry won two prestigious awards-for general excellence and for best podcast-from the American Society of Magazine Editors.

His poems and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, the NY Times Book Review, and the New Yorker, among others.


Editor of Poetry Magazine from 2003 to 2013, Christian Wiman is the author of four books of poetry and two collections of essays. In the New Yorker, poet and critic Dan Chiasson chose Wiman’s Every Riven Thing as one of the eleven best poetry collections of the year. Wiman’s other collections include The Long Home, which won the Nicholas Roerich Prize; Hard NightStolen Air, translations of Osip Mendelstam; and the nonfiction collections Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet; and My Bright Abyss. He has been the recipient of both the Ruth Lilly and Wallace Stegner fellowships and was recently appointed to the faculty of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music as Senior Lecturer in Religion and Literature. His poems and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, the NY Times Book Review, and the New Yorker, among others. 


ONCE IN THE WEST (Poetry, 2014)
Once in the West, Christian Wiman’s fourth collection of poetry, is as intense and intimate as poetry gets-from the “suffering of primal silence”that it plumbs to the “rockshriek of joy”that it achieves and enables. Readers of Wiman’s earlier books will recognize the sharp characterization and humor-“From her I learned the earthworm’s exemplary open-mindedness, / its engine of discriminate shit”-as well as his particular brand of reverent rage: “Lord if I implore you please just please leave me alone / is that a prayer that’s every instant answered?”But there is something new here, too: moving love poems to Wiman’s wife, tender glimpses of the poet’s children, and, amid the onslaughts of illness and fear and failures, “a trace / of peace.”

MY BRIGHT ABYSS (Nonfiction, 2013)
Christian Wiman, an award-winning poet and former editor of Poetry magazine, has had two constants in his life, two things that have defined him and given him solace in his times of need: faith and poetry. But when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, he began to question what his Christian beliefs and his love of poetry could really do-not only to save him from death but also to give him comfort in his pain. Completed in the wake of a bone marrow transplant, during a time when Wiman was convinced he was going to die, My Bright Abyss radiates with the intensity of a man attempting to confront his feelings and doubts while he still has time. It is a powerful meditation on what it means-for an artist and a person-to have faith not just in God but in anything in the face of death.

EVERY RIVEN THING (Poetry, 2011)
Rarely has a book of poetry so borne the stamp of necessity. Whether in stark, haiku-like descriptions of a cancer ward; surrealistic depictions of a social order coming apart; or fluent, defiant outpourings of praise, Wiman pushes his language and forms until they break open, revealing startling new truths within. The poems are joyful and sorrowful at the same time, abrasive and beautiful, densely physical and credibly mystical. They attest to the human hunger to feel existence, even at its most harrowing, and the power of art to make our most intense experiences not only apprehensible but transfiguring.


HAMMER IS THE PRAYER

There is no consolation in the thought of God,
he said, slamming another nail

in another house another havoc had half-taken.
Grace is not consciousness, nor is it beyond.

To hell with remembrance, to hell with heaven,
hammer is the prayer of the poor and the dying.

And as wind in some lordless random comes to rest,
and all the disquieted dust within,

peace came to the hinterlands of our minds,
too remote to know, but peace nonetheless.

-From Every Riven Thing

LIVING ROOM

I’ve heard him coughing hard since four.
Sometime later he’s dragged his chair
across the floor to sit and watch
the sunrise, a half-filled cup of pitch-
thick coffee steadied on his thigh.
He doesn’t say the light is gathering
in the eyes of children not yet born,
that dawn’s the time to call the Lord,
before the whole world wants to. I’ve heard
both before. In the space he makes
for me against his chest I drift away
for what seems like years to me. I wake
into the life another day brings
and the heartbeat in my ears is deafening.