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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

Guest

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

 

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mizan-Nunes/1847532975 Mizan Nunes

     ”White Egrets” by Derek Walcott captures and frees.

  • asolarpro

    Thank you for your interesting shows
    Please cover these also.

    ALEC is trying to stop renewable energy in ALL the states.American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a group that brings together state legislators and representatives of corporations to draft model bills that can then be introduced at the state level of government. An archive of ALEC documents was recently leaked to the Center for Media and Democracy.http://www.npr.org/2011/07/21/138537515/how-alec-shapes-state-politics-behind-the-scenesRepresentative Greg Wren is the head of the Alabama Energy Committee and a member of ALECThis Federal program is NOT available in Alabama because Alabama Power….or another eligible entity will not partner with it.It would help homeowners finance energy efficiency improvements.http://www.egia.org/swmc/EVERYWHERE I see foreign workers building all the houses and buildings while there are cities full of americans who want jobs.Immigration, INS, says they DO NOT CHECK ANY SITES anymore because it might be “profiling”.Employers are required to check if their workers ar here legally.Why doesn’t Immigration, INS, check at RANDOM??????

  • Fiscally_Responsible

    Here’s the best one that actually provides assurance to those who truly believe.The Lord is my shepherd,I [a]shall not want.2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;He leads me beside [b]quiet waters.3 He restores my soul;He guides me in the [c]paths of righteousnessFor His name’s sake.
    4 Even though I walk through the [d]valley of the shadow of death,I fear no [e]evil, for You are with me;Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;You [f]have anointed my head with oil;My cup overflows.6 [g]Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,And I will [h]dwell in the house of the Lord [i]forever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1820704 Katie Harcar

    Percy Bysshe Shelley – “For love and beauty and delight, there is no death nor change.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1369227467 Nelie Rea

    May Sarton’s “Autumn Sonnets”

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.garland.9 Andrew Garland

    Question for Mr. Wiman: Do you listen to musical settings of some of your favorite poetry?  

  • debbiepryor

    My father died this past September at the age of 97 and poetry, while always appreciated by him, became critical in his final years.  One of his favorites was Crossing the Bar by Tennyson….I learned to recite it which I did at his memorial service.   I go out to the meadow near our house when I want to commune with my Dad and recite the poem.  SOmething always happens…the breeze picks up, a bird flies solo over my head, a rooster crows in the distance.

  • debbiepryor

    Elegy Written  in A Country CHurchyard

  • Ed75

    When I was in great pain for a month it was all I could do, but I memorized a Robert Frost:

    Questioning Faces.

    I would repeat it slowly to lift my spirits. I repeated it so many times I can quote it today.

  • ace8547

    When I heard the topic, my first thought was “Every Riven Thing”. I didn’t know the author’s name. The book was given to my husband, going through treatment now, by a student in his Aesthtics class who had already taken the cancer journey. It has been so meaningful to both of us – and I don’t normally read poetry! I want to find more poetry now having been helped by this book.

  • SouthShore1

    the world of dew
    is the world of dew
    and yet, and yet….Kobayashi Issa

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=754480617 Katherine Shaw

    My 20 year old son died 7 years ago in a wilderness accident. He was a writer, I am a writer. We read the following at his funeral and they still bear much meaning to me: Funeral Blues by Auden, The Summer Day by Mary Oliver, Machines of Loving Grace by Brautigan. The Summer Day is engraved on the back of his headstone. I have returned to faith in the past couple years, and have joy and sorrow mixed together in this life. I really appreciate hearing this.

  • John-Michael Battaglia

    I, too, have a relatively rare form of an incurable cancer. It’s a blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma, and in January 2012 when it was diagnosed, it caused me to look at the abyss, wondering if this was to be the end of my consciousness. I went through seven months of chemo, followed by a bone marrow transplant at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY. 

    Now, my cancer is in “near-complete remission” as I take maintenance chemo to postpone its recurrence and prolong my life. An English Lit major, poetry played no significant role in my treatment, but prose did, through my writing of detailed email reports to family and friends did. I am now drawing upon those reports to comprise the core of a book about my adventure with Multiple Myeloma so that newly diagnosed patients can perhaps gain a glimmer of hope that a diagnosis of cancer need not be the end of life, but a restart.

  • http://twitter.com/PeterTurner Peter Turner

    Frost’s “Birches” always resonates as a filiment between life and death. 

  • SouthShore1

    AffirmationAnd:
    Affirmation
    To grow old is to lose everything. Aging, everybody knows it. Even when we are young, we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads when a grandfather dies.Then we row for years on the midsummer pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,that began without harm, scatters into debris on the shore, and a friend from school drops cold on a rocky strand.If a new love carries us past middle age, our wife will die at her strongest and most beautiful. New women come and go. All go. The pretty lover who announces that she is temporaryis temporary. The bold woman,middle-aged against our old age,sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand. Another friend of decades estranges himself in words that pollute thirty years. Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge and affirm that it is fittingand delicious to lose everything. Donald Hall

  • Rosamond Cummins

    In Horse Latitudes by Katha Pollitt describes desperation very clearly.

    http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1970/1/21/in-horse-latitudes-brbrwhat-does-the/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=547400173 Barbara Babette Warren

    What the Living Do
    Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
    And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous,
    and the crusty dishes have piled upwaiting for the plumber I still haven’t called.
    This is the everyday we spoke of.

    It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue,
    and the sunlight pours throughthe open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.

    For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,I’ve been thinking:
    This is what the living do.
    And yesterday, hurrying along those
    wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
    I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
    Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
    What you finally gave up.

    We want the spring to come and the winter to pass.
    We want whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more and then more of it.
    But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
    say, the window of the corner video store,
    and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deepfor my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
    I am living. I remember you

    • Debra McLaughlin

      Beautiful poem by Marie Howe

  • http://www.facebook.com/nola.blavatsky Nola Blavatsky

    My young adult son has lived, already, through 20 years of a lifelong, life-threatening illness.  No safety nets out there, “ribbons” for his disease, no fund raisers… His MD specialist once told him that what he had was “worse than cancer.”  I have seen cancer up close but based on what I know to be the trajectory of pain my son will endure, I have cancer-envy.  Here is what I wrote, as a mother:

    Being unseen

          

    The beggars are unseen

    those more fortunate

    pass by

        

          blamed for
    their plight

    hiding in alleyways near the trash

    discarded by busy restaurants

    on Boylston street

     

    a micro world of the unseen, by day

    hierarchical, active, and quarrelsome at night

    fighting for warmth

    scraps of food

     

         representing
    hope, resignation, defiance

     

    mothers of babies are beggars

    facing

    dead-faced answers

         and the
    averted gaze

     

    the baby is just born

    in junior high

    in college

    or at 40 in a hospital bed

    still a baby

     

    you will beg

    in hope

    resignation

    defiance

    for your child

     

    cover your bases,  mothers
    of babies

    pray to all the
    Gods

    mostly,  pray to
    the Gods of medicine

    and the Gods of Wall Street

    pray they will someday hear

    someday see

     

    you don’t know what
    they know

    that begging does not work

    begging pulls the sight from their once seeing eyes

    takes the sound from their ears

    ears that once heard

     

    too much sight

    too much sound

     

    they don’t know
    what you know

    cannot know, care, see, or hear

    that you are begging today

    from hope

    resignation

    and defiance

     

    you want a little help

    you’re a mother – you will do all the rest, you say

     

    you will do the 24/7 and the 365

    those minutes, hours, days

    nights

     

    you beg for a fraction

    of help and time

    a fraction

    so small in your child’s life

    it can’t even be measured

     

    you beg because even this fraction

    this portioning out of time,

    lost in the rounding up, or down,

    of numbers

    is too much to expect or to ask

     

    their job definition is to say no

    especially to beggars and mothers

    professionalism is at stake, they tell themselves

    so don’t even go there…

     

         a message at
    last

         from those
    unseeing eyes

     

    april 201

  • bencooncat

    Gerard Manley Hopkins,

    Spring and Fall:
                    to a Young Child

       Margaret, are you grieving
       Over Goldengrove unleaving?
       Leaves, like the things of man, you
       With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
       Ah! as the heart grows older
       It will come to such sights colder
       By and by, nor spare a sigh
       Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
       And yet you will weep and know why.
       Now no matter, child, the name:
       Sorrow’s springs are the same.
       Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
       What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
       It is the blight man was born for,
       It is Margaret you mourn for.

     

  • debbiepryor

    Ella Wheeler Wilcox > Quotes > Quotable Quote“We flatter those we scarcely know,We please the fleeting guest;And deal full many a thoughtless blow,To those who love us best.Laugh, and the world laughs with you;Weep, and you weep alone;For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,But has trouble enough of its own.There is new strength, repose of mind, and inspiration in fresh apparel.”

    ― Ella Wheeler Wilcox
    Read more quotes from Ella Wheeler WilcoxFor previous caller

  • terrihaynie

    To the guest who called and did not know the author to this poem:
    There’s one sad truth in life I’ve foundWhile journeying east and west -The only folks we really woundAre those we love the best.We flatter those we scarcely know,We please the fleeting guest,And deal full many a thoughtless blowTo those who love us best.~Ella Wheeler Wilcox

  • http://www.facebook.com/angela.yandel Angela Weaser Yandel

    “We flatter those we scarcely know,
    We please the fleeting guest;
    And deal full many a thoughtless blow,
    To those who love us best.

    Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
    Weep, and you weep alone;
    For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
    But has trouble enough of its own.

    There is new strength, repose of mind, and inspiration in fresh apparel.” ― Ella Wheeler Wilcox

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1221958504 Annette Hook

    The First Yesterday
    By Annette Salyer Hook

    The first yesterday in my life
    When today was still today.
    There was the promise of tomorrow,
    Moments of time and Things to be done.
    The first yesterday in my life
    There were moments to share.
    Things to look forward to,
    Plans to be made.
    Life to be lived.
    The first yesterday in my life,
    There was meaning,
    There was hope,
    There was . . .
    The first yesterday in my life
    Was the last day of you.

  • viacarrozza

    The poem read by the caller beginning, “We flatter those…” is by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

  • http://twitter.com/kmkubo Ken Kubo

    Heard on the show: Here’s the poem by Craig Arnold: Meditation on a Grapefruit
    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/237746

  • MrEKrB

    To the caller that didn’t know the author of that poem I found one similar to the one you recited by Ella Wheeler Wilcox on thinkexist.com

          “We flatter those we scarcely know,We please the fleeting guest,And deal full many a thoughtless blowTo those who love us best.”

  • http://twitter.com/kmkubo Ken Kubo

    We flatter those we scarcely know,
    We please the fleeting guest;
    And deal full many a thoughtless blow,
    To those who love us best.

    Ella Wheeler Wilcox
    http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/79161-we-flatter-those-we-scarcely-know-we-please-the-fleeting

  • danielhenry

    a poem from my chapbook, the umbrella man haiku, available at fairfieldpress.com:
    marble tombstone with
    a fresh bouquet of flowers-
    the cost of living

    thanks for the great program

  • acadianreader

    For the caller who didn’t know the writer of the poem which was so important to her:

    Life’s
    Scars by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

    They
    say the world is round, and yetI often think it square,So many little hurts we
    getFrom corners here
    and there.But one great
    truth in life I’ve found,While journeying to the West-The only
    folks who really woundAre those we love the best. The man you
    thoroughly despiseCan rouse your wrath, ’tis true;Annoyance in your
    heart will riseAt things mere strangers do;But those are only passing
    ills;This rule all lives will prove;The rankling wound which aches and
    thrillsIs dealt by hands we love. The choicest garb, the sweetest
    grace,Are oft to strangers shown;The careless mien, the frowning
    face,Are given to our own.We flatter those we scarcely
    know,We please the
    fleeting guest,And deal full many a thoughtless blowTo those who
    love us best. Love does not grow on every tree,Nor true hearts
    yearly bloom.Alas for those who only seeThis cut across a tomb!But,
    soon or late, the fact grows plainTo all through sorrow’s test:The only
    folks who give us painAre those we love the best.

  • AC

    This is just to say
    I have eaten the plums
    that were
    in the icebox

    and which
    you were probably
    saving
    for breakfast

    Forgive me
    they were delicious
    so sweet
    and so cold
    William Carlos Williams

    • AC

      gees. i cut and paste that & the format was so wrong, but when i went to edit it – disqus took forever!!!
      annoying!

      • JGC

        Almost like haiku!:

        Gees. I cut and paste.
        And the format was so wrong.
        Annoying Disqus.

  • Ed75

    We can speak to God directly, as one does to a friend.

  • joan gray

    I am so glad you are having this  program, Tom. I am a poet and when I’m in need of spiritual sustenance – which is quite often – I turn to  the Psalms, especially #23,#24,#25. I think the words are eternal. I suffer from depression, so poetry is NECESSARY to my life.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.raymond.980 Sarah Raymond

       I agree completely. I also have depression and I’ve found that poetry often allows me to express my feelings as well as bring me closer to life.

  • Rob Cant

    I”m not a poetry fan and never read the stuff but one that has stuck in my mind for over4 decades is
       God hath not promised
       Sun without rain,
       Joy without sorrow,
       Peace without pain.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bkort Barry Kort

    Here is a theological question to ponder:

    What does the theological concept of God have to do with the secular concept of Becoming Aware?

  • burroak

          Poetry, how…why is it so powerful?
     
    Perhaps it gives us pause to gently reflect about our lives, our existence…the cosmos.

    Or, maybe, it patiently waits to guide us…through uncertainty.

    It provides us strength, hope, comfort, clarity….and beauty.

    Poetry, poets, poems…please, continue to inspire….  

  • al gil

    I had my own brush with my mortality, your comments about your intial coping strategies hit home.  I’m a visual artist, and I didn’t paint for a long time and when I did start again, the paintings were so small….. It has taken three years to finally get back to it.  I found solace in lyrics of songs. Thank you Christian

  • debhulbh

    Beannacht
    (“Blessing”)
     
    On the day when the weight deadens
    on your shoulders and you stumble,
    may the clay dance to balance you.
     
    And when your eyes freeze behind the grey window
    and the ghost of loss gets in to you,
    may a flock of colors, indigo, red, green,and azure blue
    come to awaken in you a meadow of delight.

     
    When the canvas frays in the currach of thought
    and a stain of ocean blackens beneath you,
    may there come across the waters
    a path of yellow moonlight
    to bring you safely home.
     
    May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
    may the clarity of light be yours,
    may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
    may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
    And so may a slow wind
    work these words of love around you,
    an invisible cloak to mind your life.
     

    ~ John O’Donohue ~
    This poem has carried me through many a trial and tribulation.
    Pastoral in nature, and so much much, it is exactly what my heart needs.
    I gift it always to friends.

  • Allen Dec

    So many souls are yet asleep -
    Should I wake therm?
    Will they understand?
    Will they rejoice?
    Will they grieve?
    Will they stand the pain?

    I will play my harp
    to soother their minds.

  • Ed75

    Sure, it helps one survive. But even poems aren’t going to save one from death, that takes someone.

  • AC

    next hospital stay, i may consider getting some poetry….i didn’t think of it the other times, i may have helped..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1425947130 Karen Stern

    Best On Point ever. Thanks Tom and Co. and thanks Christian. Your first poem hit me hard, and made me know I have to keep trying to write my own.

  • adventuresinlauraland

    I was moved by a called who read a 4-line poem.  I THOUGHT she called in “Michael” by Wordsworth, and said that is was writted after the death of his child, but I cannot locate this poem online.  Can someone point me towards it?  Many thanks.
     

  • pegtassey

    What a beautiful and inspiring show. First, can you tell me who the poet is that a caller read a poem of, a woman poet that Christian said he is still friends with her husband? I loved that poem and the Meditation on a Grapefruit…and intend to get Christian’s book and share these with my teen aged daughter. Second,Thank you so much for the reminder about how important creative expression is for the spirit. I have struggled most of my life with the push and pull of doing what I must (writing poems and music) and doing what seems practical. I was discouraged by family to pursue music because we were poor, and I was to be practical and focus on that which would support me. I worked for 25 years at a job that nearly killed my spirit, and nearly squashed my music. I became very sick. I always knew in my heart that the poetry/music made by others was healing for me. I had a harder time believing that it was what I needed to do to heal myself. I felt responsible to try to live in the business world. “Be a grown up”. Thank you to the caller who said that god is what we create, poem/car/airplane etc. That was great! This program has somehow given more strength to my will to heal and make music and poetry again. And I am also trying to find ways to encourage my daughter to follow her muse as well…even though, all those years of working a job that was wrong for me, left me still near poverty(irony?) and I worry that she will struggle with supporting herself….. I know that she must feed her spirit and and this she will always have.

  • pegtassey

    What a beautiful and inspiring show. First, can you tell me who the poet is that a caller read a poem from, a woman poet? Christian said he is still friends with her husband. I loved that poem and the Meditation on a Grapefruit…and intend to get Christian’s book and share these with my teen aged daughter.

    Second,Thank you so much for the reminder about how important creative expression is for the spirit. I have struggled most of my life with the push and pull of doing what I must (writing poems and music) and doing what seems practical. I was discouraged by family growing up to pursue music because we were poor, and I was to be practical and focus on that which would support me. I worked for 25 years at a job that nearly killed my spirit, and nearly squashed my music. I became very sick. I always knew in my heart that the poetry/music made by others was healing for me. I had a harder time believing that it was what I needed to do to heal myself. I felt responsible to try to live in the business world. “Be a grown up”. Thank you to the caller who said that god is what we create, poem/car/airplane. Thank you Christian for the important idea that poems are spiritual at their best. So many people try to just turn a clever phrase…so empty for me.

    This program has somehow given more strength to my will to heal and make music and poetry again. And I am also trying to find ways to encourage my daughter to follow her muse as well…even though, all those years of working a job that was wrong for me, left me still near poverty(irony?) and I worry that she will struggle with supporting herself….. I know that she must feed her spirit and and this she will always have. xoPegTassey

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=754480617 Katherine Shaw

       Hello, If I remember correctly that was Jane Kenyon, wife of Donald Hall, also a poet. –Take care — Katherine

      • pegtassey

        Thank you…yes that was it!

  • Carolmaeray

    I was one of the callers on this show, reading part of my short poem “Death is a Lion.”  Here is the full poem:

    Death is a Lion

    Death is a lion
    staring me down,
    soft as a pussy cat
    in gentle dreams/ 
    but she stalks me now,
    a ferocious roar of fear
    on this August dog day.

    Death is a chameleon,
    a leonine chameleon
    slipping into mind cracks/
    a kaleidoscope witch,
    changeable… 

    old devil death

    from the chapbook The Breast Cycle, a journey of dreams and nightmares

    http://www.carolmaeray.com

  • Coastghost

    Permit my second complaint this week about stylistics in “On Point” intro blurbs: perhaps it bespeaks a perverse cast of mind, but innocuously, I took this show’s title “Poetry and Spirituality at Death’s Door” as a treatment of a perceived moribund state of poetry and a perceived moribund state of spirituality: and not explicitly as poetic or spiritual treatments of the subject and topic of death, which is what the show amounted to.
    Perhaps even worse: I would’ve found the subject I am naming more pointed and topical than the subject you wound up treating. While poetry/fiction/literature cannot help but treat subjects bearing upon vital matters of life and death, the common American appropriation of poetry/fiction/literature (and other arts) chiefly for therapeutic purposes I find repellant and disgusting and anti-literary and anti-aesthetic in the extreme. Assigning utilitarian purpose to ”art” brings no vitality to life and empties “art” of whatever other values it strives to embody.
    My view of our historical circumstance is orthodox Vichian for the moment: I think we simply do not live in a poetic age, certainly not in an era where poetry is capable of what it was in earlier ages, and our “spirituality” so-called is equally exhausted of resources, capability, and integrity. Profound dislocations are not being addressed by our poets, and we have become remote from spiritual vitality, courage, and accomplishment.

    • pegtassey

      Gosh, if you’re so unhappy with the way today’s poets are writing…why not give it a try yourself.
      note: every artist is entitled to their very own reason for expressing themselves.

      • Coastghost

        You mirror my argument well: you diagnose my circumstance as “unhappiness” (mere understatement or shallow nomenclature?), then instantly you dispense the prescription (an inert, inefficacious placebo) that art is a ”right” to (vapid) self-expression. Both sentiments reflect unambiguously the therapeutic captivity of poetry/fiction/literature I reject. 
        In point of fact I do not try to write, I do write (but not poetry).

  • http://twitter.com/tpobserver Tim (TPO)

    I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. – Walt Whitman

  • KimSTL

     

    Fifteen years ago, after 23 years of marriage, my husband
    died at 45 of cancer, leaving me with 4 lovely children, all under 20.  Determined to be a stoic ‘Mother duck’ ,
    I pressed on.

     

    One of my husband’s colleagues sent me a note and a small
    book of poems by W. H. Auden with the page containing ‘Funeral Blues’.  His note simply said ‘this one has
    helped me.  Maybe it will help you
    also’.  I read it out loud to my
    children and burst into tears.  It
    was painful but cathartic.  I had
    long appreciated good poetry, but it now had a new meaning.  This small poem said what I could
    not.  Great art, whether translated
    into music, words or dance has great power to move you if you are open to
    listening. 

     

    This book of Auden poems is one of my most treasured
    possessions.

  • dk321

    For the woman that quoted a poem for which she did not know the author, a google search shows it is by Ella Wheeler:

    “There’s one sad truth in life I’ve foundWhile journeying east and west -The only folks we really woundAre those we love the best.We flatter those we scarcely know,We please the fleeting guest,And deal full many a thoughtless blowTo those who love us best.”

  • Lee Gaglione

    I heard Christians’s quote early in the show that went,”There is another world, and it is this world”. Can anyone identify the quote and the author?

  • Jeff Reardon

    Do not stand at my grave and weep,
    I am not there; I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow,
    I am the diamond glints on snow,
    I am the sun on ripened grain,
    I am the gentle autumn rain.
    When you awaken in the morning’s hush
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    Of quiet birds in circling flight.
    I am the soft star-shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and cry,
    I am not there; I did not die.

    -Mary Frye

  • http://mathema-tricks.blogspot.com/ Mac Quaes

    When death comes knocking, you don’t know how you’ll react. Rightly said.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joshua-Hendrickson/1652586055 Joshua Hendrickson

    Let be be finale of seem.
    The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.
    –Wallace Stevens

  • Michele

    To the Caller Jeannie: The poem you are quoting from is by Ella Wheeler Wilcox entitled, Life’s Scars.  You can find it on the internet.  Hope this helps.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=847755360 Steven Breyak

    I feel a little late to the conversation, but I just got to listen to this podcast today. Mr. Wilman’s observations on death, spirituality and poetry’s role in helping understand the ineffable were heartfelt and precise. A moving discussion.

    I’d like to share a poem that, like many of those shared on the program, was a part of a transformation for me. When I was student in my 20s I was, of course, certain of everything. And one of these certainties was that religion and the language of religion were part of the same lie. (Please, forgive the bluntness of my youth.) But after reading the poem below, I understood for the first time in my adult life, what words like “soul” and “spirit” and “loss” attempt to define. Like all good poems do–or in this case, great poems do greatly–a pocket of this world opened to me and flooded into what I know, and it changed everything. I  understood myself, and us, as something more complicated than the science of our bodies, and more simple than the many dogmas available. And the poem continues to move me and teach me.

    So, here’s the great Wislawa Szymborska:

    Autotomy

    In danger, the holothurian cuts itself in two.
    It abandons one self to the hungry world
    and with the other self it flees.

    It violently divides into doom and salvation,
    retribution and reward, what has been and what will be.

    An abyss appears in the middle of its body
    between what instantly become two foreign shores.

    Life on one shore, death on the other.
    Here hope and there despair.

    If there are scales, the pans don’t move.
    If there is justice, this is it.

    To die just as required, without excess.
    To grow back just what’s needed from what’s left.

    We, too, can divide ourselves, it’s true.
    But only into flesh and a broken whisper.
    Into flesh and poetry.

    The throat on one side, laughter on the other,
    quiet, quickly dying out.

    Here the heavy heart, there non omnis moriar–
    just three little words, like a flight’s three feathers.

    The abyss doesn’t divide us.
    The abyss surrounds us.

       In memoriam Halina Poswiatowska

    translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

     

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