cover image Once in the West

Once in the West

Christian Wiman. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24 (112p) ISBN 978-0-374-22701-2

The first half or so of this harsh and sometimes masterful fourth outing from poet, memoirist, and editor Wiman (Every Riven Thing) might represent the best verse he has yet penned. Wiman’s short lines and sometimes dense rhymes look back at his West Texas youth, at “that back-// seat, sweat-/ soaked, skin-// habited Heaven,” at the “cactus song” of a high-spirited grandma, at “my hard horizonless country/ whose one road releases me like heat as I walk on.” A former editor of Poetry magazine, Wiman’s wide reading there perhaps helped him develop his serious, careful, and widely admired technique. He now teaches at Yale Divinity School; as the volume progresses the poems’ themes gravitate toward questions of Christian faith. “I tried to cry out in the old way/ of thanksgiving, ritual lamentation, rockshriek of joy./ There was no answer. Had there ever been?” His search for religious answers twines itself tautly with reflections on his own illness, homages to poets of the past, and exemplary self-scrutiny. If these poems of anger and devotion find few immediate admirers, they are nonetheless part of a serious poet’s lifelong thought about life and death, about body and soul, about memory and family, about this world and what is beyond. (Sept.)