cover image Survival Is a Style

Survival Is a Style

Christian Wiman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (100p) ISBN 978-0-374-90869-0

The fifth collection by Wiman (Once in the West) rings with hard-wrung truths. “Church or sermon, prayer or poem:/ The failure of religious feeling is a form,” he posits; “I need a space for unbelief to breathe,/ I need a form for failure, since it is what I have.” These poems, which vary widely in their forms, are held together by the poet’s sensibility, each word sparking joy in its sound and texture: “amid the sudden silica of the market stalls,/ the whirlwinded bones and the misted viscera: dates,” and “moon rover roving over// the moon of me.” Vivid portraits in verse (“You knew no hunger till you’d tasted his./ Every adamant, even the utmost bone/ of lean and gristled misery, split its richness”) appear alongside poems of theological inquiry: “There is an under, always,/ through which things still move, breathe,/ and have their being.” The brilliant long poem at the book’s center, “The Parable of Perfect Silence,” is part memoir, part ars poetica. Yet the poet steadfastly demurs: “I want to hum just a little with my own emptiness/ at 4 a.m. To have little bells above my door./ To have a door.” Wrestling with the self, skepticism, and faith, this collection is a radiant addition to Wiman’s oeuvre. [em](Feb.) [/em]