cover image Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair

Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair

Christian Wiman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-60345-8

Poet and translator Wiman (My Bright Abyss) weaves together poetry, essay, and memoir in this dazzling, multivocal examination of and refusal to accept existential despair. It’s a subject with which the author is familiar: his West Texas childhood was wracked by violence and drug addiction (his sister’s and father’s); later came persistent doubts and ambivalence about the Christianity he’d grown up in. The entries wrestle with God and the challenges of belief; with art and its limits; with suffering and the urgency of human needs and desires. A prodigious reader, Wiman mines scripture (“And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And/ I answere, O Lord God, thou knowest,” from Ezekiel) and the work of such poets as Emily Dickinson, from whom he takes the title image, and William Bronk (“Again and again,” Wiman writes, “Bronk finds (and suffers) the limit of what the human mind can know”). Wiman’s knowledge is vast, and his evocative imagery lingers in the mind: “Some people read the stars, some people read people,/ some sit in a vise of silence trawling God./ Love and death, love and death, red shift, blue shift.” It’s a gorgeous ode to the power of poetry to grapple with life’s most anguished moments. (Dec.)