Poetry And Spirituality At Death’s Door

The editor of Poetry magazine on poetry and spirituality at death’s door.

Christian Wiman

Christian Wiman

When death comes knocking, you don’t know how you’ll react.  Where you’ll turn.  But where you’ve been is a pretty big clue.

Christian Wiman was editor of Poetry Magazine and just 39 years old when death kindly stopped for him.  A rare, deadly, cancer.  It threw him hard and fast into a new way of hearing, seeing, reading.  He had no patience for Wallace Stevens’ “death is the mother of beauty.”

But other dead poets sent him lifelines from their graves.  “Make the world continue,” they said.  He lived.  He’s here.

This hour, On Point:  poetry and faith, at death’s door.

-Tom Ashbrook


Christian Wiman, poet and editor of Poetry magazine since 2003. Author of “My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.”

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “The memoirist and poet Mary Karr, who has traded whiskey for Jesus, once described the difficulty of talking nonironically about faith to a secular audience. It is, she said, ‘like doing card tricks on the radio.’ Christian Wiman, the editor of Poetry magazine and a poet himself, attempts no sleight of hand in his slim and simmering memoir, ‘My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.'”

Texas Monthly “Wiman jokes that this was his first real job, the sweet spot he landed in after a peripatetic early adulthood that took him far from his West Texas childhood and saw him uprooted forty times in fifteen years. He absorbed new landscapes and languages, went broke, passed in and out of relationships, and became a much-praised and widely published poet. One critic ranked his last collection, Every Riven Thing, among the best of the past twenty years. Another said his poems don’t so much remind you of other poets as make you forget them.”

The Washington Post “The struggle between the urge to believe and the downward tug of doubt runs through the history of Christianity, from the disciple named Thomas — who was not convinced of the resurrection until he touched Jesus’s wounds — right on through Augustine, Pascal and Kierkegaard, and to such modern seekers as Simone Weil, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Thomas Merton.”

Excerpt: ‘My Bright Abyss’ by Christian Wiman

Excerpted from My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman, published in April 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2013 by Christian Wiman. All rights reserved.

Christian Wiman’s List of Poems

“A Prayer That Will Be Answered” by Anna Kamienska

“Meditation on a Grapefruit” by Craig Arnold

“The Red Lilly” by Eugenio Montale

“Psalm” by Paul Celan

“Hamlen Brook” by Richard Wilbur

“Lachrimae Amantis” by Geoffrey Hill

“Clearances” by Seamus Heaney

“And I Was Alive” Osip Mandelstam

(Also a favorite of author Ayana Mathis — she joined us in January to discuss her bestselling novel “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.”)

“Having Confessed”by Patrick Kavanagh


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