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“Blazing high style” is how The New York Times describes the prose of Christian Wiman, the young editor who transformed Poetry, the country’s oldest literary magazine.Ambition and Survival is a collection of stirring personal essays and critical prose on a wide range of subjects: reading Milton in Guatemala, recalling violent episodes of his youth, and traveling in Africa “Blazing high style” is how The New York Times describes the prose of Christian Wiman, the young editor who transformed Poetry, the country’s oldest literary magazine.Ambition and Survival is a collection of stirring personal essays and critical prose on a wide range of subjects: reading Milton in Guatemala, recalling violent episodes of his youth, and traveling in Africa with his eccentric father, as well as a series of penetrating essays on writers as diverse as Thomas Hardy and Janet Lewis. The book concludes with a portrait of Wiman’s diagnosis of a rare form of incurable and lethal cancer, and how mortality reignited his religious passions. When I was twenty years old I set out to be a poet. That sounds like I was a sort of frigate raising anchor, and in a way I guess I was, though susceptible to the lightest of winds. . . . When I read Samuel Johnson’s comment that any young man could compensate for his poor education by reading five hours a day for five years, that’s exactly what I tried to do, practically setting a timer every afternoon to let me know when the little egg of my brain was boiled. It’s a small miracle that I didn’t take to wearing a cape. Praise for Ambition and Survival"That calling, at once religious, ethical, and aesthetic, is one that only a genuine poet can hear—and very few poets can explain it as compellingly as Mr. Wiman does. That gift is what makes Ambition and Survival, not just one of the best books of poetry criticism in a generation, but a spiritual memoir of the first order." —New York Sun "This weighty first prose collection should inspire wide attention, partly because of Wiman's current job, partly because of his astute insights and partly because he mixes poetry criticism with sometimes shocking memoir...The collection's greatest strength comes in general ruminations on the writing, reading and judging poetry." —Publishers Weekly "[Wiman is] a terrific personal essayist, as this new collection illustrates, with the command and instincts of the popular memoirist ... This is a brave and bracing book." —Booklist "Christian Wiman's poems often spoke of a void, and then they stopped. In Ambition and Survival, Poetry magazine's editor rediscovers his spirituality and his voice."—Chicago Sun-Times Christian Wiman is the editor of Poetry magazine. His poems and essays appear regularly in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and The New York Times Book Review. He is the author of several books of poetry, including The Long Home (isbn 9781556592690) and Hard Night (isbn 9781556592201).


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“Blazing high style” is how The New York Times describes the prose of Christian Wiman, the young editor who transformed Poetry, the country’s oldest literary magazine.Ambition and Survival is a collection of stirring personal essays and critical prose on a wide range of subjects: reading Milton in Guatemala, recalling violent episodes of his youth, and traveling in Africa “Blazing high style” is how The New York Times describes the prose of Christian Wiman, the young editor who transformed Poetry, the country’s oldest literary magazine.Ambition and Survival is a collection of stirring personal essays and critical prose on a wide range of subjects: reading Milton in Guatemala, recalling violent episodes of his youth, and traveling in Africa with his eccentric father, as well as a series of penetrating essays on writers as diverse as Thomas Hardy and Janet Lewis. The book concludes with a portrait of Wiman’s diagnosis of a rare form of incurable and lethal cancer, and how mortality reignited his religious passions. When I was twenty years old I set out to be a poet. That sounds like I was a sort of frigate raising anchor, and in a way I guess I was, though susceptible to the lightest of winds. . . . When I read Samuel Johnson’s comment that any young man could compensate for his poor education by reading five hours a day for five years, that’s exactly what I tried to do, practically setting a timer every afternoon to let me know when the little egg of my brain was boiled. It’s a small miracle that I didn’t take to wearing a cape. Praise for Ambition and Survival"That calling, at once religious, ethical, and aesthetic, is one that only a genuine poet can hear—and very few poets can explain it as compellingly as Mr. Wiman does. That gift is what makes Ambition and Survival, not just one of the best books of poetry criticism in a generation, but a spiritual memoir of the first order." —New York Sun "This weighty first prose collection should inspire wide attention, partly because of Wiman's current job, partly because of his astute insights and partly because he mixes poetry criticism with sometimes shocking memoir...The collection's greatest strength comes in general ruminations on the writing, reading and judging poetry." —Publishers Weekly "[Wiman is] a terrific personal essayist, as this new collection illustrates, with the command and instincts of the popular memoirist ... This is a brave and bracing book." —Booklist "Christian Wiman's poems often spoke of a void, and then they stopped. In Ambition and Survival, Poetry magazine's editor rediscovers his spirituality and his voice."—Chicago Sun-Times Christian Wiman is the editor of Poetry magazine. His poems and essays appear regularly in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and The New York Times Book Review. He is the author of several books of poetry, including The Long Home (isbn 9781556592690) and Hard Night (isbn 9781556592201).

30 review for Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet

  1. 4 out of 5

    Helen (Helena/Nell)

    This book is intensely quotable. I read it with a pencil in my hand, marking bits I knew I’d go back to. I could easily make up this entire review from quotations. Stuff like: --- “Frost once remarked that poetry was a way of taking life by the throat, but for so many contemporary poets it seems a way of taking life by the hand.” --- “I think Eliot was simply wrong when he asserted that the poetry of his own time had to be ‘difficult’, and I think poets of our own time often make the same mistake. This book is intensely quotable. I read it with a pencil in my hand, marking bits I knew I’d go back to. I could easily make up this entire review from quotations. Stuff like: --- “Frost once remarked that poetry was a way of taking life by the throat, but for so many contemporary poets it seems a way of taking life by the hand.” --- “I think Eliot was simply wrong when he asserted that the poetry of his own time had to be ‘difficult’, and I think poets of our own time often make the same mistake. The real difficulty is in being clear.” --- “So much of contemporary poetry (and poets’ prose, for that matter) seems to want too desperately to be liked, or to be a kind of public relations campaign for the poet’s personality.” --- “. . . and I’d rather eat a copy of The Cantos than read it again.” --- “You’re not a man at sixteen, you’re a gland.” --- “One ought to inhabit the role of reviewer without relishing it.” --- “. . . I think a strong case can be made that the more respect you have for poetry, the less of it you will find adequate to your taste and needs.” There’s something utterly delightful to read a statements like the last from a poet who is also editor of Poetry, a US journal with a circulation (thanks to Wiman) of 30,000. But he is more than just sound-bites. He writes beautiful and thoughtful extended prose. His style is careful, measured, interesting, intelligent and often unexpectedly funny. This volume includes a number of reviews. Some of these (though all are well-written) are interesting in proportion to your interest in the poet he is looking at. Such is life. For me, the strongest reason for recommending this book (which I do) is the personal essays, in particular ‘Milton in Guatemala’ and ‘The Limit’. I would buy the book for these alone. “I was fifteen when my best friend John shot his father in the face” – that’s the first sentence of ‘The Limit’. Wiman continues to hold your attention with precisely that kind of clarity throughout. But he is not just playing for drama. This is lived experience, on which he reflects, and it is a full and fascinating reflection. In fact, this book is the kind you don’t often come across. It is about Christian Wiman and the meaning of poetry in his life, which in the end is the same as the meaning of life. He ends with an essay about the effect of his cancer diagnosis, the discovery of a kind of faith that I don't want to summarise here, because it is not straightforward. He has not, he says, “been at ease in this world”, but he celebrates it. This is an enriching book. It arrives at no conclusions easily. It poses more questions than it answers. It left me with a feeling of profound respect for the author.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brian Brodeur

    Though I'm not the biggest fan of Wiman's poetry, this book blew me away. It's a compilation of personal essays, criticism, remembrances, fragments, etc. Wiman is nothing else if not tough-minded and exceedingly smart. His judgments of World Literature are discerning, expressed in a pithy yet anecdotal style. He has a probing, self-qualifying intelligence that comes off gracefully on the page. Though I'm not the biggest fan of Wiman's poetry, this book blew me away. It's a compilation of personal essays, criticism, remembrances, fragments, etc. Wiman is nothing else if not tough-minded and exceedingly smart. His judgments of World Literature are discerning, expressed in a pithy yet anecdotal style. He has a probing, self-qualifying intelligence that comes off gracefully on the page.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    This isn't a long book, but it's complicated. It was a lot of work for me, and I often felt kind of bogged down when reading it. It's split up into 5 sections--the 1st and 3rd I found to be especially chore-like to get through. The first section is compelling in its own right, but since I didn't expect to be reading Wiman's personal memoirs, I was sort of in this mindset of "ok, let's get to the good stuff--you know...about poetry." The 3rd section contains two "Fugitive Piece" sub-sections, whi This isn't a long book, but it's complicated. It was a lot of work for me, and I often felt kind of bogged down when reading it. It's split up into 5 sections--the 1st and 3rd I found to be especially chore-like to get through. The first section is compelling in its own right, but since I didn't expect to be reading Wiman's personal memoirs, I was sort of in this mindset of "ok, let's get to the good stuff--you know...about poetry." The 3rd section contains two "Fugitive Piece" sub-sections, which are scraps of thoughts on technique, criticism, etc. I got the most out of sections 2, 4, and 5, and I bet you (writers/busy people with a lot of other stuff on your reading list) will too. There are several elements of this book I think are especially perplexing: 1) Wiman seems to really, really like T.S. Eliot. I've never heard of anybody liking Eliot this much. And it seems to me that Wiman consistently compares the poets he criticizes to Eliot ("Crane was less successful than Eliot, in his life as well as in his art"; "Bunting was in life in a way that Eliot [wasn't]"; "If [Bunting's] Briggsflatts is autobiographical, it'd autobiographical in the way The Waste Land is..."). So, Eliot keeps popping up in the criticism so regluarly that I wonder, why isn't there an ACTUAL ESSAY ON ELIOT? 2) Even when I'm pretty sure I disagree with Wiman (his position that a good poem MUST be a reflection of self, his criticisim of Hardy), he makes me listen to what he has to say. 3)...BUT sometimes it's hard to listen. Sometimes I simply don't know what he's saying. Like, in "An Idea of Order" (which is less Stevensian than the title suggests, and that I'd hoped for), he writes: "some poets survive as turtles survive, by pulling their extremeties in." I have no idea what this means. In "Forteen Fragments..." he writes, "Americans love mixed tones. It's often nothing more than a thoughtless and fake reflex--the easily digestible pap of pathos and irony in the recent movie American Beauty, say, which is a sort of glossy visual equivalent of a trend in contemporary American poetry." Do you know what these "mixed tones" are he's talking about? Do you know what the "it" refers to? He can't be arguing that it's best to avoid "mixed tones" and maintain a stable, singular tone in a poem, can he? I really don't know. I'd like to, but the rest of the paragraph provides no clarity. Overall--peculiar book, but in more of an anthropological than visceral sort of way .

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Blake

    This is a brilliant book, and I don't say that lightly. Wiman's bright mind wanders through poems, poets and the challenging realities of being someone who writes poems, and writes about poems, for a living. The essays are small and intimate, not so much short as written in bursts. It's like sitting still next to someone who's read everything and thinks about it all the time. He comments on the failure of biographers' to capture the true life of the poet, the moments when she turns insight into This is a brilliant book, and I don't say that lightly. Wiman's bright mind wanders through poems, poets and the challenging realities of being someone who writes poems, and writes about poems, for a living. The essays are small and intimate, not so much short as written in bursts. It's like sitting still next to someone who's read everything and thinks about it all the time. He comments on the failure of biographers' to capture the true life of the poet, the moments when she turns insight into literature; on the intersections of faith (and God) with poetry; and on the place of ambition in a poet's life. It should be a handbook for the best lit class ever taught. I can't recommend it highly enough.

  5. 5 out of 5

    James Smith

    Just rediscovered this under the two stacks of books tottering beside my bed. Moved to the top.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I should probably give it 4.5 stars because it's not perfect, but I loved this book. I can definitely say it was amazing because of the clear yet complex examination of poetry that Wiman enacts here. It was a pleasure to read his prose, and it made me both think more deeply about how I read and write and want to do more critical thinking about poetry. It took me some time to read this book because I had to devote full attention to it, but I'm glad I took my time. The biographical and anecdotal es I should probably give it 4.5 stars because it's not perfect, but I loved this book. I can definitely say it was amazing because of the clear yet complex examination of poetry that Wiman enacts here. It was a pleasure to read his prose, and it made me both think more deeply about how I read and write and want to do more critical thinking about poetry. It took me some time to read this book because I had to devote full attention to it, but I'm glad I took my time. The biographical and anecdotal essays are the most pleasing and set the tone for the collection, since the first section consists mostly of such pieces. We learn that Wiman "set out to be a poet" when he was twenty and see him struggle to define what that might mean. Throughout the collection, Wiman returns again and again to these questions: what kind of a life should a poet lead? How much does the life impact the art? We also learn early on about two areas of unease that impact Wiman as a reader and a poet: he has an ambivalent relationship with the divine, and, for four years, he found himself unable to write. The sense of angst that arises from both of those "uneases" crops up again and again in later essays, in a short interjection in a piece considering some other topic, for example. Wiman is a tough critic with exacting opinions, which is refreshing. His essay from Poetry, "In Praise of Rareness" makes some great points about how readers encounter poetry and questions what will last--he thinks often of the long view. I wasn't sure how the section of essays focusing on invididual poets (mostly forewords and reviews) would hold up to the rest, and while it wasn't the strongest section, Wiman has chosen well--the reviews/critiques here give evidence of his "theory," that "poetry must attend as scrupulously ... to the breadth and mess of experience as it does to the forms that are its essence," for example. His rhetorical instinct is to set two things in contrast, e.g.: "A poet who finds it too easy to bleed onto her pages may need a sort of verse tourniquet; a poet who finds it too difficult may need a knife." The final essay ("Love Bade Me Welcome"), printed first in The American Scholar, is a tour de force, picking up two important threads--spiritual unease and the despair of not writing--and showing us "what happened next" for the younger man who composed the earlier autobiographical essays. If you're going to read only one essay from this book, it should be this one.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I began to read this in a library copy, but found so many things I wanted to highlight that I bought the Kindle version. There are patches of great storytelling - his trip to South America in particular; a number of reviews of poets' books (some of the poets I don't know at all) and his incisive and insightful comments about their work; and the final chapter on his return to Christianity, his marriage and the discovery of cancer - all within a year. Now that I have a Kindle version I'll go back I began to read this in a library copy, but found so many things I wanted to highlight that I bought the Kindle version. There are patches of great storytelling - his trip to South America in particular; a number of reviews of poets' books (some of the poets I don't know at all) and his incisive and insightful comments about their work; and the final chapter on his return to Christianity, his marriage and the discovery of cancer - all within a year. Now that I have a Kindle version I'll go back and read sections again. Some of the book isn't easy to grasp in one reading, especially the loose compilations of brief thoughts (many of which take no more than a longish paragraph), but for understandings of poetry and its recent history, the book is great. The wonder to me is how he has such a breadth of knowledge about poets and what a vast amount of reading he must have done in his relatively short lifetime.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Isla McKetta

    I didn't know I needed this book. I told my husband I wanted to read some of Wiman's poetry and he found this to help me deepen that experience. I loved the essays - saw myself and my family in the southern roots, the distances that can exist between the closest people. I struggled with the criticism - feared my own naivete and looked longingly for an acceptance I haven't yet earned. To Wiman's great credit, I found an openness in this book and in the ways he sees of being. He knows himself here I didn't know I needed this book. I told my husband I wanted to read some of Wiman's poetry and he found this to help me deepen that experience. I loved the essays - saw myself and my family in the southern roots, the distances that can exist between the closest people. I struggled with the criticism - feared my own naivete and looked longingly for an acceptance I haven't yet earned. To Wiman's great credit, I found an openness in this book and in the ways he sees of being. He knows himself here, and his tastes, and as strongly as he feels, he leaves room for you to feel otherwise and for his own views to change. His criticism is as full of vivid language as his essays (re Jay Wright he writes: "the mule of my mind would balk, and I might have plowed a few furrows without it") and my writing and life are both forever enriched by having read this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    LeeAnn Derdeyn

    This is an amazing set of essays that were, except for the ending essay, written during Wiman's self-professed disbelief in the Christian faith of his West Texas upbringing. Yet thruout, one can hear and feel his struggle and discern God's outreach even when Wiman hasn't yet done so. "The Limit" is amazing and amazingly written; I read it to my college freshman English classes. There are numerous insights into our modern world. He is also one of my very favorite poets and his new collection, Eve This is an amazing set of essays that were, except for the ending essay, written during Wiman's self-professed disbelief in the Christian faith of his West Texas upbringing. Yet thruout, one can hear and feel his struggle and discern God's outreach even when Wiman hasn't yet done so. "The Limit" is amazing and amazingly written; I read it to my college freshman English classes. There are numerous insights into our modern world. He is also one of my very favorite poets and his new collection, Every Riven Thing, comes out from FSG in Nov. 2010. I highly recommend any and everything Wiman writes.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tamara Murphy

    Continuing my education on Christian Wiman. I need to own this book so I can re-visit it. Very, very good.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    A seminal book for understanding Wiman's life as poet and as poetry critic. This is beautiful, evocative prose, especially in the memoir pieces, where he is recounting some early life experiences, e.g., a boyhood friendship, a trip to East Africa with his father and missionary in-laws. It seems to me that Wiman sees life --all life--as whole, as a oneness, a force?--expressed in the particularities that we experience in time, ourselves included. Absence is a central theme. Something essential A seminal book for understanding Wiman's life as poet and as poetry critic. This is beautiful, evocative prose, especially in the memoir pieces, where he is recounting some early life experiences, e.g., a boyhood friendship, a trip to East Africa with his father and missionary in-laws. It seems to me that Wiman sees life --all life--as whole, as a oneness, a force?--expressed in the particularities that we experience in time, ourselves included. Absence is a central theme. Something essential is experienced as missing. Something is not quite right. Something is broken. And so he feels compelled to seek out what is missing, through travel, though being unrooted. After twenty plus years, he falls in love, life-changing love. Shortly after this discovery, comes threat of imminent death. This is his experience up to age forty or so. A poet is called to put a form, a language, on his experience so that he and others can know it. It is like being a witness to life. How does this forming happen? What does it mean to impose a form on something so personal , to try to capture in words an experience that expresses something that seems ineffable. And so the perennial question of where art emerges from: is it from suffering, or from simple attention to our surroundings? Do we use conventions that others have used to form poems or do we invent our own? Etc. these are a some of poet's basic questions. And so, in this collection of his essays that cover roughly twenty years, we have a collection of thoughts-- what is poetry, how does it come about. Wiman experiences his poems like light breaking through a crack, as something not of his own but as connecting and being expressed in and through his own being, his own words. To explain what is expressed in this book or in his other published work is beyond my capability, not bec it is not clear, but bec it is so evocative and personal and especially bec it feels true. As poet, teacher, and editor of Poetry magazine, Wiman has read and studied the work of major and minor and would-be poets. I certainly am no judge of those critical pieces. This book is a collection of his work at early mid-life. It is, of course, by no means finished.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tracy Marks

    As a poet and instructor of poetry writing, I was hoping for a book that spoke to me, inspired me, as so many books I've read about poetry have. But the entire first half of the book (mostly written 15-20 years ago) dragged, and it seemed to me that Wiman was speaking more from an academic intellect than a more whole and deeper self. But in the last few chapters, I found some words of wisdom - and the final chapter was not only beautifully written, it was also deeply moving. So I have a mixed re As a poet and instructor of poetry writing, I was hoping for a book that spoke to me, inspired me, as so many books I've read about poetry have. But the entire first half of the book (mostly written 15-20 years ago) dragged, and it seemed to me that Wiman was speaking more from an academic intellect than a more whole and deeper self. But in the last few chapters, I found some words of wisdom - and the final chapter was not only beautifully written, it was also deeply moving. So I have a mixed reaction to the book. With most books about poetry, I take 3-5 pages of notes. I was 2/3 of the way through this book before I wrote down a word. But then I filled up two pages. The beginning of the book is about Wiman's own life - mildly interesting, but forgettable. In much of the middle section, he discusses individual poets. Unless you have read these poets (I was quite familiar with Millay, Eliot and Walcott and only a few of the others), the pages about them may not hold your interest. The power of the last chapter for me was in the lyricism of Wiman's prose as related to his rediscovery of faith and connection to his spiritual self. My guess is that his style and tone throughout most of the book would have been different if he had started it in 2005-2006, which is when he wrote the last chapter.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rosy

    On the one hand I was predisposed to enjoy this book because I've been something of a fan of Christian Wiman for some years now. On the other hand, given the relatively shallow knowledge I had of him and his work, this was my opportunity to get to know him better at the risk of being disappointed. I was not disappointed. This is a wide ranging collection of reflections, essays, and reviews whose unifying theme is poetry. I'm glad he waited as long as he did to put these varying gems in one trove On the one hand I was predisposed to enjoy this book because I've been something of a fan of Christian Wiman for some years now. On the other hand, given the relatively shallow knowledge I had of him and his work, this was my opportunity to get to know him better at the risk of being disappointed. I was not disappointed. This is a wide ranging collection of reflections, essays, and reviews whose unifying theme is poetry. I'm glad he waited as long as he did to put these varying gems in one trove, not least because I actually do feel that I got to know him a little better. I won't attempt to describe this poet's mind as it's expressed here (and in his other works: my favorite poem is "This Mind of Dying" and my favorite -- longish -- essay is "Mortify Our Wolves") as I'm sure I can't do that. Suffice it to say that I've set myself a goal for this year (ask me how I'm doing!) to go through this book as a study guide to poetry, reading all or most of the poems and much of the poets he discusses. I probably don't have time at the moment, but I'm definitely going to give it a try, and I'm excited to get started.

  14. 5 out of 5

    John Anders

    Bullet Thoughts: - Part one (of three) of this book is a collection of memoir-esque essays which are gripping reflections upon the author's life in connection with specific works of literature. These essays are profound and worth reading and re-reading because they hint at questions of hope, authenticity, and the Unknown. - The rest of the book speaks more to writing poetry and "becoming a poet." I skimmed some of these and found them insightful, and gained a few nuggets here and there, but I susp Bullet Thoughts: - Part one (of three) of this book is a collection of memoir-esque essays which are gripping reflections upon the author's life in connection with specific works of literature. These essays are profound and worth reading and re-reading because they hint at questions of hope, authenticity, and the Unknown. - The rest of the book speaks more to writing poetry and "becoming a poet." I skimmed some of these and found them insightful, and gained a few nuggets here and there, but I suspect most will enjoy this work because of part one as I did. (Well worth it just for that part.) - This work is from before Wiman's conversion to Christianity, which to me makes it all the more interesting because you may pick up on the thoughts of the poet before a major shift in his alignment.

  15. 4 out of 5

    tonia peckover

    I loved Wiman's essays here, and as always, his transparent wrestling with faith and religion. But the book is filled with criticism and review of poets and poetic forms I am not overly familiar with and it did become something of a slog for me. There's no obscuring Wiman's incisive intelligence and since the essays move through time, it's interesting to see his personal development (ouch, early Wiman is harsh!) I finally gave myself permission to skim some of the poetry critiques. Maybe I'll go I loved Wiman's essays here, and as always, his transparent wrestling with faith and religion. But the book is filled with criticism and review of poets and poetic forms I am not overly familiar with and it did become something of a slog for me. There's no obscuring Wiman's incisive intelligence and since the essays move through time, it's interesting to see his personal development (ouch, early Wiman is harsh!) I finally gave myself permission to skim some of the poetry critiques. Maybe I'll go back to them when I've taken a deeper dive into some of the poetry.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I like later Wiman better than this earlier version, which is younger, more critical, at times caustic but still full of a searching spirituality that draws me through all of his work. I don't have the background/knowledge to appreciate the poetry criticisms, so my favorite parts were the memoir-style essays, especially the last one, which pulls us forward toward one of my favorite books, My Bright Abyss. I like later Wiman better than this earlier version, which is younger, more critical, at times caustic but still full of a searching spirituality that draws me through all of his work. I don't have the background/knowledge to appreciate the poetry criticisms, so my favorite parts were the memoir-style essays, especially the last one, which pulls us forward toward one of my favorite books, My Bright Abyss.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Donald

    I love reading books by talented writers who say things I agree with.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Caleb Chan

    Read "On Being Nowhere," "Milton in Guatemala," "A Piece of Prose," "Finishes: On Ambition and Survival, and half of "An Idea of Order." Favorite was "Milton in Guatemala" Lots over my head Read "On Being Nowhere," "Milton in Guatemala," "A Piece of Prose," "Finishes: On Ambition and Survival, and half of "An Idea of Order." Favorite was "Milton in Guatemala" Lots over my head

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cameron

    Wiman is always restless, but especially here.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    T.S. Eliot published a string of “appreciations” for different poets throughout his career. The two appreciations that have lingered with me over the years concerned Tennyson and Yeats. Tennyson, the technical genius and keen virtuoso of promise, apparently blunted against the events of his life. According to Eliot, “Tennyson seems to have reached the end of his spiritual development with “In Memoriam”; there followed no reconciliation, no resolution.” The technical merits of his art became a su T.S. Eliot published a string of “appreciations” for different poets throughout his career. The two appreciations that have lingered with me over the years concerned Tennyson and Yeats. Tennyson, the technical genius and keen virtuoso of promise, apparently blunted against the events of his life. According to Eliot, “Tennyson seems to have reached the end of his spiritual development with “In Memoriam”; there followed no reconciliation, no resolution.” The technical merits of his art became a surface distraction that flattered his readers, but he was unable to plumb the pain which attends life as a person, and his art quickly thinned to a gloss of prosody. If there was anything to be gleaned from Tennyson, it was in the poems of his youth. Yeats, on the other hand, was a model of a poet to follow into middle and late age. Eliot (along with the likes of Auden and Heaney) have written about Yeats’ ability to change and grow throughout his life. In Yeats’ own terms, to “assume masks” that allowed him to be honest as a person, and subsequently in his art. In “Ambition & Survival”, Wiman, who wrote the essays between the ages of 35 and 47, seems to be attempting to tread that tricky path towards a Yeatsian middle-age. And he does it in a range of essay modes – from memoir to book review to criticism (the memoirs are by far the most enjoyable section; although there is great value in the reviews and criticism, if they sometimes read like eating your fiber). The book’s subtitle, “Becoming a Poet”, might be replaced with “Becoming a Person”. The theme of poetry of course runs through the whole book, but even when he criticizes poetry his main concern isn’t poetry proper, but rather the person who attempts to quiet the disturbed waters of the soul through poetry. I doubt he’d ever use the ambiguous word “soul” though. He’s much too precise for that. The book, along with its author, is successful at the task. Wiman, of course, is the editor of Poetry magazine. I read his book of poems “Every Riven Thing” alongside this collection. “ERT” was written towards the end and after he’d finished “A&S”, and there are some very good examples of Wiman as poet plumbing the pain in an honest way, attempting Yeats’ masks to give true form to experience and therefore meaning to his readers. It seems Wiman found his way into middle-age without turning away from the dark night and into Tennyson’s half-light twilight. You can read a version of the final essay in “Ambition & Survival” (Love Bade Me Welcome) here. Also, for further reading, check out Wiman’s essays concerning love, being diagnosed with terminal cancer, and reconciling his Christian faith here.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Krzysztof

    Eliot, indeed, Hardy, Heaney, Heaney, Paradise Lost, indeed, Eliot, Heaney, Paradise lost, not-a-formalist, Heaney, indeed, Eliot, Keats, Milton, not-a-formalist, Eliot, Hardy, Heaney, maybe-a-formalist, Paradise Lost, Lowell, Larkin, indeed, ok-so-I'm-a-formalist, inhere, inhere, inhere. If you're an anti-formalist, as I tend to be, this may not be the book for you. And there's way too much talk about "major poets" and "important poetry", which I've always found obnoxious. Wiman claims that he's Eliot, indeed, Hardy, Heaney, Heaney, Paradise Lost, indeed, Eliot, Heaney, Paradise lost, not-a-formalist, Heaney, indeed, Eliot, Keats, Milton, not-a-formalist, Eliot, Hardy, Heaney, maybe-a-formalist, Paradise Lost, Lowell, Larkin, indeed, ok-so-I'm-a-formalist, inhere, inhere, inhere. If you're an anti-formalist, as I tend to be, this may not be the book for you. And there's way too much talk about "major poets" and "important poetry", which I've always found obnoxious. Wiman claims that he's not a formalist, but I don't think he's fooling anyone but himself. This is a guy who wants his poems strictly metered and, ideally, to start with O! He doesn't actually want any experimentation with forms as he says. If he had his druthers, we'd all read and write nothing but 17th century forms. He has an essay on the created vs the made and, again, because he knows what is expected of anyone under the age of ancient, he says that the created is the higher art; but he proceeds by saying that since you can't bank on that, forms forms forms. Probably the most annoying thing about this book for me was not his focus on form, but that he kept insisting he was much cooler than all that and wasn't actually stuck in obsolescence. If he had just owned what he is from the start, I could have given up on this thing.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John

    After reading WIman's My Bright Abyss and now this, consider me a fan. I've yet to dig deeply into his poetry, but that will come soon enough. I appreciate the care Wiman takes in observing the world, in stretching for just the right word to describe the thoughts or experiences on his mind in each essay. In this he brings a poet's sensibility to his writing, one concerned with meaning, but also with sound and rhythm as well. In other words, Wiman's simply a fantastic writer, and reading his pros After reading WIman's My Bright Abyss and now this, consider me a fan. I've yet to dig deeply into his poetry, but that will come soon enough. I appreciate the care Wiman takes in observing the world, in stretching for just the right word to describe the thoughts or experiences on his mind in each essay. In this he brings a poet's sensibility to his writing, one concerned with meaning, but also with sound and rhythm as well. In other words, Wiman's simply a fantastic writer, and reading his prose detailing his own personal story, conveying his thoughts on poetry and poets, or reflecting on particular collections of poetry, is an experience I look forward to. I love many of the essays in this book, and the final essay, "Love Bade Me Welcome," is one that is going to resonate for some time. I am moved by the way he undermines the typically facile understanding of creation by many Christians, describing a return to his faith that occurs because of the created world and the creatures in it, rather than in spite of them. Further, there is in this essay an appreciation of the relationship between faith and doubt that not only reflects my own experience, but clarifies and expands my understanding of these elemental things.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Wow! Christian-ity! Wiman-ity! I've been rereading Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet for over a year now. The bookend essays "On Being Nowhere" and "Love Bade Me Welcome" (titled earlier as "Gazing into the Abyss") were what first caught my attention that fateful, final walk-around the shelves in St. John's College Bookstore, Sante Fe. Meanwhile, I've been rewarded with beautiful and brazen words that bleed onto paper; and, for me, Wiman's words have remained earthbound by the very living b Wow! Christian-ity! Wiman-ity! I've been rereading Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet for over a year now. The bookend essays "On Being Nowhere" and "Love Bade Me Welcome" (titled earlier as "Gazing into the Abyss") were what first caught my attention that fateful, final walk-around the shelves in St. John's College Bookstore, Sante Fe. Meanwhile, I've been rewarded with beautiful and brazen words that bleed onto paper; and, for me, Wiman's words have remained earthbound by the very living breath and fire and stuff of human experience in joy and in suffering. http://theamericanscholar.org/gazing-... http://www.hds.harvard.edu/news-event... http://billmoyers.com/segment/poet-ch...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    There is a part of me that wonders if only "real artists" can apprehend this book, for it is just as much about the impossibility of language as its power. Facile as the phrase "real artist" is, it is one way of describing a shared experience of the rift in being that Wiman writes of so well. Yet Wiman never rests in the too-easily glorified destitutions of the literary mind. There is always a sharp, unshrinking honesty in Wiman's writings. While the critical essays have some judgments I disagre There is a part of me that wonders if only "real artists" can apprehend this book, for it is just as much about the impossibility of language as its power. Facile as the phrase "real artist" is, it is one way of describing a shared experience of the rift in being that Wiman writes of so well. Yet Wiman never rests in the too-easily glorified destitutions of the literary mind. There is always a sharp, unshrinking honesty in Wiman's writings. While the critical essays have some judgments I disagree with, there is such a wealth of clarity and mystery, beauty and deep thought in this volume that I can't imagine my life as a poet without Wiman's prose.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Deb

    Some of the essays were completely approachable, some way over my head. Some of the sections are critiques of poets works, and some are about his personal life and approach to poetry. I'm glad I read it, but it also felt a little too rich in content. If I were flush with cash I would consider buying it for some of the critiques on "important poets" so that I could read those specific works and see how his perspective might help my own understanding. This book feels like an independent study textb Some of the essays were completely approachable, some way over my head. Some of the sections are critiques of poets works, and some are about his personal life and approach to poetry. I'm glad I read it, but it also felt a little too rich in content. If I were flush with cash I would consider buying it for some of the critiques on "important poets" so that I could read those specific works and see how his perspective might help my own understanding. This book feels like an independent study textbook. Which is not a bad thing, but not necessarily an easy thing to read, either.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Vanjr

    I read this book for two reasons. First the author is related to my wife and I have heard about him at family reunions. Secondly I am about as ignorant of poetry as anyone, despite significant education. I understood very little of the middle of the book, but gathered some knowledge of this eclectic writer from the beginning and the end. I did learn a tiny bit about poetry and less about Modernism in poetry. The book also was a nice expansion of my vocabulary-having a copy of Oxford English Dict I read this book for two reasons. First the author is related to my wife and I have heard about him at family reunions. Secondly I am about as ignorant of poetry as anyone, despite significant education. I understood very little of the middle of the book, but gathered some knowledge of this eclectic writer from the beginning and the end. I did learn a tiny bit about poetry and less about Modernism in poetry. The book also was a nice expansion of my vocabulary-having a copy of Oxford English Dictionary on my table was a real plus.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Wiman's essays up until "Fugitive" pieces are simply brilliant. From there, they become more fragmentary, like journal notes and reviews more fit for other purposes, more full of opinion than revelation--until the final piece, "Love Bade Me Welcome," which is again stunning. I wish I could give four-and-three-quarter stars to this near-perfect collection, which I still highly recommend to anyone seeking solace in the reading and writing of poetry. Wiman's essays up until "Fugitive" pieces are simply brilliant. From there, they become more fragmentary, like journal notes and reviews more fit for other purposes, more full of opinion than revelation--until the final piece, "Love Bade Me Welcome," which is again stunning. I wish I could give four-and-three-quarter stars to this near-perfect collection, which I still highly recommend to anyone seeking solace in the reading and writing of poetry.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    This really is an impressive book of essays. I enjoyed the mix of autobiography and literary criticism. Wiman has a clear and thoughtful voice on the page. His mind is critical, doubtful, arrogant, and humble in all the right ways for me as a reader. Plus, anyone who can write so beautifully about suicide is doing something write in my mind.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Duff

    Fascinating essays on both his approach to life and to literature. Just discovering Wiman as a poet and the essays were an excellent opening to his thought/creative processes. Much of the focus was on the teacher/academic side of his work, could be used as a poet's guide. Enjoyed both the writing and the new information I gained. Fascinating essays on both his approach to life and to literature. Just discovering Wiman as a poet and the essays were an excellent opening to his thought/creative processes. Much of the focus was on the teacher/academic side of his work, could be used as a poet's guide. Enjoyed both the writing and the new information I gained.

  30. 5 out of 5

    John

    I told myself beforehand that I would skim all of Wiman's essays on other poets, but they were so interesting I read them all the way through. I can see why he is the editor of Poetry magazine. His criticism has a way of uncovering strengths as well as weaknesses others have not grasped. His life story is uncovered here and hints of tragedies in his poems are given fuller background. I told myself beforehand that I would skim all of Wiman's essays on other poets, but they were so interesting I read them all the way through. I can see why he is the editor of Poetry magazine. His criticism has a way of uncovering strengths as well as weaknesses others have not grasped. His life story is uncovered here and hints of tragedies in his poems are given fuller background.

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