Poetry: Christian Wiman | clivejames.com
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Christian Wiman

Christian WimanChristian Wiman, born and raised in West Texas, continues a tradition in American poetry which is now outnumbered, if a tradition can be that. By now the boundless, formless, scattered and often scrambled poem dominates the American poetic world, and is advancing into the rest of the English-speaking world as inexorably as Wal-Mart. Chris Wiman does the other sort of thing. He writes with transparent exactitude in contained, rhythmic forms that Robert Frost would have approved of. Richard Wilbur, one of Chris Wiman’s mentors, has illuminatingly commented on his “singular power to bring about mergings of consciousness with the surround.” The surround can be anywhere in America and indeed the world. This poet is much travelled (he has lived in England, Mexico, Guatemala and the Czech Republic) and has served in several universities, with Stanford, where he was Jones lecturer in poetry, perhaps at the top of the list. His most influential posting, however, is the editorship of Poetry (Chicago), but he is notable for seeking, from contributors, nothing except quality, and imposes no requirement to write within the boundaries that he sets for himself. Indeed his own poetry is entirely absent from the magazine’s pages: an impressive act of self-denial. I find his poems insistent on being read aloud, in the way that so much from America is determined not to be. His rhymes and line-turnovers are all carefully placed to intensify the speech rhythms, making everything dramatic: not shoutingly so, but with a steady voice that tells an ideal story every time. His most recent collection, Hard Night (2005), is probably the best way in, but don’t miss the five-part title poem of his 1998 collection The Long Home. There is now also a book of prose, Ambition and Survival (2007), which deals fascinatingly with the subject of Becoming a Poet.

Read his poem of June, 2009, "Five Houses Down"

Interview 2010