Many of us poet folks know Christian Wiman as the editor of Poety magazine--although I try not to think of him as the one who personally rejects my poems. Some of us may know that he's had a fight with a rare form of blood cancer. Perhaps fewer of us see him as a theological thinker, but his interview on the NPR show On Being proves otherwise.
On this week's episode of On Being, he talks with Krista Tippett about issues of faith, practice, illness, and poetry. Even if you normally avoid anything with a whiff of spirituality, this interview is worth your time.
Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:
--"Well, you know, I've been sick lately and I actually had a bone marrow transplant and was in the hospital for quite a long time. And one of the things, poetry died for me for a while. I found that it just wasn't speaking to me. I think I had certain expectations that took me a while to realize were false expectations. I think we often talk about poetry getting us beyond the world and taking us to the very edge of experience and then getting us into the ineffable. I have to say, when I was, you know, faced with the actual ineffable, I didn't want poetry that gave me more of the ineffable. What I wanted was some way of apprehending the world that was right in front of me that was slipping away.
I wanted the world, you know, in front of my eyes, and the poems that I found useful were absolutely concrete, sometimes not at all about religious things and not at all about spiritual things, but simply reality, and reality rendered in such a way that you could see it again."
--"You know, I think we have these experiences and they are people reacting against the word spiritual these days. But I don't know what other word to use at this point. They are spiritual experiences and then religion comes after that.
Religion is everything that we do with these moments of intense spirituality in our lives, whether it's whatever practice we have, whether it's going to church, whether it's how we integrate sacred text into our lives. Being religious or taking on some sort of religious elements in your life, you're not necessarily saying I agree with everything that this religion says. What you are saying is that I've had these incredible experiences in my life of suffering or joy or both and they have demanded some action of me and demanded some continuity of me. And the only way that I know to do this is to try to find some form in it and try to share it with other people."
--"Doubt is so woven in with what I think of as faith that it can't be separated. I am convinced that the same God that might call me to sing of God at one time might all me at another to sing of godlessness. Sometimes when I think of all of this energy that's going on, all of this what we've talked about, these different people trying to find some way of naming and sharing their belief, I think it may be the case that God calls some people to unbelief in order that faith can take new forms."
--"So the title is "Every Riven Thing," and riven is kind of an Old Testament word meaning broken, sundered, torn apart. This was actually the first poem that I wrote after years of silence, all those years I mentioned. I had gone I think it was three years without having written a poem. And in the middle of all those dramatic things happening to me, this was one of them. I sat down one day and found myself writing again and this poem came to me all of a sudden. It was quite a shock to write a poem and quite a shock to write a poem especially like this one.
'God goes, belonging to every riven thing he's made / sing his being simply by being / the thing it is: / stone and tree and sky, / man who sees and sings and wonders why / God goes. Belonging to every riven thing he's made, / means a storm of peace. / Think of the atoms inside the stone. / Think of the man who sits alone / trying to will himself into a stillness where / God goes belonging. To every riven thing he's made / there is given one shade / shaped exactly to the thing itself: / under the tree a darker tree; / under the man the only man to see / God goes belonging to every riven thing. He's made / the things that bring him near, / made the mind that makes him go. / A part of what man knows, / a part from what man knows, / God goes belonging to every riven thing he's made.'"
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