Once in the West

In his fourth collection of poems, Christian Wiman returns with the spiritual questions and learnéd wit characteristic of his earlier work (“We lived in the long intolerable called God”), but also with a newfound sense of intimacy, a closer voice. “More Like the Stars,” a single poem that comprises the book’s final section, finds the poet overwhelmed with love for his wife and daughters, facing the great difficulty of existing:

     So much life in this poem
     so much salvageable and saving love

     but it is I fear I swear I tear open
     what heart I have left

     to keep it from being
     and beating and bearing down upon me

Wiman’s sophisticated command of internal rhyme echoes throughout these poems (“Silas, / say less // than silence”), which work to craft beauty in an uncertain world of “lordless // mornings” and “nightfall / neverness.” In “Music Maybe,” Wiman speaks of “[t]oo many elegies elevating sadness…one wants in the end just once to befriend / one’s own loneliness, // to make of the ache of inwardness— // something…” Here, out “of the ache of inwardness,” Wiman has made poems of existential angst and inquiry, love and destruction, prayer and song. “Once in the west I rose to witness / the cleverest devastation,” he writes in “Razing a Tower”—and it is precisely that “cleverest devastation” that Wiman crafts continuously in these heartrending poems.

This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2014.