The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians – Christian Wiman

Good news! Yesterday saw the release of Christian Wiman’s new book of poetry, Once in the West. While my copy is still in mail, I couldn’t resist sharing the opening portion of what Dwight Garner in the NY Times has already called a “major performance” and “near-masterpiece”, one that Wiman was kind enough to preview for us when he was here in 2013, “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians”. It’s biting and uncomfortable but also extremely funny, a veritable catalog of churchy tropes, both inane and indicting. Given its tone, the ending, which you’ll have to buy the book to read, may surprise you.


9780374227012_p0_v2_s260x420I tell you it’s a bitch existence some Sundays
and it’s no good pretending you don’t have to pretend,

don’t have to hitch up those gluefutured nags Hope and Help
and whip the sorry chariot of yourself

toward whatever Hell your Heaven is on days like these.
I tell you it takes some hunger heaven itself won’t slake

to be so twitchingly intent on the pretty organist’s pedaling,
so lizardly alert to the curvelessness of her choir robe.

Here it comes, brothers and sisters, the confession of sins,
hominy hominy, dipstick doxology, one more churchcurdled hymn

we don’t so much sing as haunt: grounded altos, gear-grinding tenors,
three score and ten gently bewildered men lip-synching along.

You’re up, Pastor. Bring on the unthunder. Some trickle-piss tangent
to reality. Some bit of the Gospel grueling out of you.

I tell you sometimes mercy means nothing
but release from this homiletic hologram, a little fleshstep

sideways, as it were, setting passion on autopilot (as if it weren’t!)
to gaze out in peace at your peaceless parishioners:

boozeglazes and facelifts, bad mortgages, bored marriages,
making a kind of masonry in faces at once specific and generic,

and here and there that rapt famished look that leaps
from person to person, year to year, like a holy flu.


Anyone interested in Wiman would do well to read Matthew Sitman’s excellent new essay for The Deep Dish, “Finding the Words for Faith”, in which he dubs CW “America’s most important Christian writer.”

Will-lessly (Happy 80th, Wendell Berry)

In honor of the man’s 80th birthday, a poem from his newest collection of Sabbath poems, This Day.

by-j-b-hallWill-lessly the leaves fall,
are blown, coming at last
to the ground and to their rest.
Among them in their coming down
purposely the birds pass,
of all the unnumbered ways
choosing one, until
they like the leaves will
will-lessly fall. Thus freed
by gravity, every one
enters the soil, conformed
to the craft and wisdom, the behest
of God’s appointed vicar,
our mother and judge, who binds
us each to each, the largest
to the least, in the family of all
the creatures: great Nature
by whom all are changed, none
are wasted, none are lost.
Supreme artist of this
our present world, her works
live and move, love
their places and their lives in them.
And this is praise to the highest
knowledge by the most low.

Matthew 4.18-19 (A Loose Translation)

Matthew 4.18-19 (A Loose Translation)

I never considered myself much of a fisherman, so when my dad said, “Take a gaff,” I asked what that was. He held up a massive hook. “In case you get a big one,” he insisted. And I answered, “We’ve been fishing all summer and never needed a gaff.” But I took it anyways, because he said so.

My brother, Andrew, and I packed the rest of the rods into the doorless Jeep and off-roaded past the cul-de-sac into the woods, where deep in the trees a river runs. I plopped on the bank where my feet could dangle above the…

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New Music: French Style Fur’s Is Exotic Bait

New Music: French Style Fur’s Is Exotic Bait

On the heels of obsessing over Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, Matthew Linder and I found another target for our obsession in French Style Fur’s Is Exotic Bait. The band is made from members of We Barbarians and Cold War Kids, and most of the lyrical content comes straight out of the poetry of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and mystic. Here are the results of a conversation surrounding one of the deepest albums we have heard in quite a while.

Matt: So what did you think about “All the Way Down”?

Blake: That track is just so credal. I can’t ignore that…

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“I Shall Be Released” – Charles Wright



From the American poet laureate’s collection, Sestets

There is a consolation beyond nomenclature
of what is past
Or is about to pass, though I don’t know what it is.
Someone, somewhere, must, and this is addressed to him.

Come on, Long Eyes, crack the book.
Thumb through the pages and stop at the one with the golden script.
Breathe deeply and lay it on me,
that character with the luminous half-life.

Dead Horses, Repentance, and American Religion

Dead Horses, Repentance, and American Religion

Allen Tate, an admired Southern poet (friend of Robert Penn Warren and teacher of Robert Lowell), published an essay in 1930 diagnosing the complexities of Southern and, by extension, American religion. It appears in a work by defenders of the agrarian way of life, titled I’ll Take My Stand, a book with some high points of wisdom which are neglected, now, as a result of its significant/egregious low points of racism and Southern revanchism. Tate finds American religion to be pragmatic in a bad way, focused on an abstract ability to work rather than a view of the whole human. You can…

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Final Three Stanzas of Milosz’s “A Poem for the End of the Century”

milosz01521745To whom should I turn
With that affair so dark
Of pain and also guilt
In the structure of the world,
If either here below
Or over there on high
No power can abolish
The cause and the effect?

Don’t think, don’t remember
The death on the cross,
Though everyday He dies,
The only one, all-loving,
Who without any need
Consented and allowed
To exist all that is,
Including nails of torture.

Totally enigmatic.
Impossibly intricate.
Better to stop speech here.
This language is not for people.
Blessed be jubilation.
Vintages and harvests.
Even if not everyone
Is granted serenity.

What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

The friendly overtures of a person whom we no longer love, overtures which strike us, in our indifference to her, as excessive, would perhaps have fallen a long way short of satisfying our love. Those tender speeches, that invitation or acceptance, we think only of the pleasure which they would have given us, and not of all those speeches and meetings by which we would have wished to see them immediately followed, which we should, as likely as not, simply by our avidity for them, have precluded from ever happening. So that we can never be certain that the good…

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“XLIX” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

tennyson-01-reducedBe near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.

Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is racked with pangs that conquer trust;
And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
And Life, a Fury slinging flame.

Be near me when my faith is dry,
And men the flies of latter spring,
That lay their eggs, and sting and sting,
And weave their petty cells and die.

Be near me when I fade away,
To point the term of human strife,
And on the low dark verge of life
The twilight of eternal day.

Wendell Berry, “Marriage” (1968)

sleeping-woman-meditation-1904.jpg!BlogFor Tanya (his wife)

How hard it is for me, who live
in the excitement of women
and have the desire for them
in my mouth like salt. Yet
you have taken me and quieted me.
You have been such light to me
that other women have been
your shadows. You come near me
with the nearness of sleep.
And yet I am not quiet.
It is to be broken. It is to be
torn open. It is not to be
reached and come to rest in
ever. I turn against you,
I break from you, I turn to you.
We hurt, and are hurt,
and have each other for healing.
It is healing. It is never whole.

The Fiddler of Driskill Hill

This comes from Win Bassett.

Louisiana poet David Middleton’s new collection, The Fiddler of Driskill Hill, is out from Louisiana State University Press. A review from The Quarterly Conversation states

Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Middleton’s work as “stately,” a quality more often associated with Milton than any contemporary poet.

item65306“Upon the Publication of a First Book of Poems”
The Burning Fields, LSU Press, 1991
To see them here brings humbleness, not pride,
Poems so well printed, jacketed, and then
Braced by comments made by generous men
Whose works my own could never stand beside.
Here also is that absence, black despair,
That stared from blank white spaces at my face
Until the courted muse released her grace
And words flowed into verses like a prayer.
Such moments of eternity-in-time
Confirm the Maker in each maker’s rhyme.

Read excerpts from more of Middleton’s poems in the collection here, and purchase his new book from here.

Another Week Ends: Lenten Anthropology Meets Carl Rogers, New Community, Charlie Kaufman, Oscars Morality, Auden (Again), and Katims on Crying

Another Week Ends: Lenten Anthropology Meets Carl Rogers, New Community, Charlie Kaufman, Oscars Morality, Auden (Again), and Katims on Crying

1) A particularly Lenten roundup this week, starting with this very beautiful, concise reflection from Will Willimon over at OnFaith, called “Good News! You’re a Sinner and Lent Is Here,” which deals primarily with the deep relief that comes in knowing yourself as a sinner. (Reminds us a little of someone we get to meet in NYC this spring, who has spoken quite frankly about the “cruel optimism” of our contemporary world.) The truth is, more often than not, the scandal of the Christian faith is not merely the nature or existence of God, but the sin of humankind—and the…

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Two Portions of T.S. Eliot’s “Choruses From ‘The Rock’”

sings-jacques-brel-b0000075yf-lО weariness of men who turn from God
To the grandeur of your mind and the glory of your action,
To arts and inventions and daring enterprises.
To schemes of human greatness thoroughly discredited.
Binding the earth and the water to your service,
Exploiting the seas and developing the mountains,
Dividing the stars into common and preferred.
Engaged in devising the perfect refrigerator,
Engaged in working out a rational morality,
Engaged in printing as many books as possible,
Plotting of happiness and flinging empty bottles,
Turning from your vacancy to fevered enthusiasm
For nation or race or what you call humanity;
Though you forget the way to the Temple,
There is one who remembers the way to your door:
Life you may evade, but Death you shall not.
You shall not deny the Stranger…

Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they would like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.
They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be.

P.S. If you missed our “Possibly Insane Thoughts on Ash Wednesday” or “God Bless the Insomniacs”, they might be worth looking at today.

Excursions & Arrivals, by Brett Foster


Excursions & Arrivals

The sign at the corner of the property
at the foot of the driveway—”No
eighteen wheelers allowed in the church
parking lot”—may be exactly the confirmation
I needed that I am currently passing
by a Baptist church a little to the south
of Chattanooga. Was it a recurring problem
that led to its posting? Did the congregation
rebel or reach the proverbial tipping point?
Even so, I’d like to think they would make
an exception, that every once in a great
while they might wave the driver toward them
with his truckload of passengers battered
bruiseful by all of the loveless difficulties
that make up so very much of this life,
not pallets of freight they’d come to expect
but many blemished ones hungry to the point
of being famished, urgent for the Son
rising with his big paper-carrier’s bag
of good news and promises or even simple
reassurances like, You are not going
to perish now, or You are mightily
welcomed here, even though you’re fully
known here
, and so on. Against hope, I hope
sometimes that those Baptists are smiling
as they direct the eighteen-wheeler’s driver
forward, forward with the bird’s-wing flutters
of their sweet, inviting hands, as if saying
Pull yourself on in here now, buddy.
You take up as many spaces as you need
while already his long trailer is being
unlatched and its metal door rolled up
so as to let that Tennessee light pour in,
clarifying its darkened conveyances,
especially brightened on Sunday morning
as I imagine it now, while driving slowly
on Spring Creek Road south of Chattanooga.

The above appears in the Mar/Apr issue of Books and Culture (and online here). For more from B&C, see here.

Fanny Howe and Ilona Karmel are “Keepers of the Image”

Fanny Howe and Ilona Karmel are “Keepers of the Image”

This comes from an essay Fanny Howe wrote, called “Keepers of the Image,” about her mentor, Ilona Karmel, and a short essay she wrote, also called “Keepers of the Image.” Howe describes Karmel, a Jew who survived the WWII Polish labor camps, as a woman of Dostoevskian realism, someone who sought to write about her experiences not for sentimental purposes, but for an exact depiction of abject human darkness. She wrote of the conflict in each person, between the self they know everyday, and the self they long to be, the “secret self.”

Like Dostoyevsky, Ilona Karmel pursued truth (without quotes)…

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