Christian Wiman, Every Riven Thing, Small Prayer in a Hard Wind

About a week or so ago, I concluded my reading of Christian Wiman’s 2010 collection of poems, Every Riven Thing. I have posted about the first two section of this book of poems, and now I am posting about the last section.


I want to quote a favorite poem from this section, “Small Prayer in a Hard Wind.”

As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
only someone lost could find,

which, with its painless windows and sagging crossbeams,
its hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,

seems both ghost of the life that happened there
and living spirit of this wasted place,

wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
that is open enough to receive it,

shatter me God into my thousand sounds . . .

Grammatically, the main sentence resides in the very last line of the poem, the rest of the poem lie within smaller phrasal compartments. Look at the poem represented this way:

{As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
only someone lost could find,

[which, (with its painless windows and sagging crossbeams,
its hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,)

seems both ghost of the life that happened there
and living spirit of this wasted place,]

wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
that is open enough to receive it,}

shatter me God into my thousand sounds . . .

The poem almost resembles the nesting doll linguistics of Cicero’s prose. There’s a clause within a clause within a clause within a clause . . . Once this is understood, the poem can be parcelled out into sense. The main sentence is an imperative one: “shatter me God into my thousand sounds,” a line reminiscent of Donne’s 14th Holy Sonnet, “Batter my heart, three person’d God.” This poem primarily functions on this main sentence, and secondarily on the comparison that begins in the first line. The poet asks to be shattered into a thousand sounds as the wind is shattered into pieces by the broken down hut.


Here are the poems in this section, and emphasized are the poems I especially enjoyed.

  • And I Said to My Soul, Be Loud
  • Hammer Is the Prayer
  • When the Time’s Toxins
  • Small Prayer in a Hard Wind
  • The Resevoir
  • For D.
  • I Sing Insomnia
  • Then I Slept into a Terror World
  • Lord Is Not a Word
  • So Much a Poet He Despise Poetry
  • Given a God More Playful
  • Lord of Having
  • It Is Good to Sit Even a Rotting Body
  • Gone for the Day, She Is the Day
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Summer Reading

These are my reading endeavors for this summer.

  • Ulysses by James Joyce
    • After having read Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I have decided to move onto what is considered Joyce’s most significant contribution to the world of fiction.
  • [If I have time, Odyssey by Homer]
    • Joyce’s Ulysses is loosely and consistently tethered to the story of Odysseus in Homer’s epic poem, Odyssey. If I have time, which I hope to have considering I have started Ulysses early, I will reread Homer’s tale of homecoming.
  • Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill
    • This is a book of Christian living that discusses the role of Christian friendship within the church community.
  • American Primitive by Mary Oliver
    • I have wanted for a long time to read some of Oliver’s poetry. Oliver is a recently deceased nature poet, and this collection won her Pulitzer Prize.
  • Interrogations at Noon by Dana Gioia
    • I look forward to encountering Gioia, a contemporary new formalist, who puts out collections only every 5 years to a decade. This was his third book of poetry.

Christian Wiman, Every Riven Thing, Late Fragment

After finishing the second part the second part of Christian Wiman’s 2010 book of poems, Every Riven Thing, I wish to show a poem called “Late Fragment.” I was close to showing a poem called “Not Altogether Gone,” but it is a seven part poem spanning many pages. This first stanza of “Late Fragment” is beautiful, and puts words to the inability to speak.

How to say this —
my silences were not always mine:
scrabbled hole and the black beyond;
vaporous pond
as if water wanted out of itself;
tip of the sycamore’s weird bare reach:
some latency in things leading not so much to speech
as to a halting, haunted art
wherein to master was to miss —
how to say this, how to say this. . .

My father was a boatbuilder.
Prow of a man, his world a sea to cleave.
I learned a dangerous patience,
to navigate night, live on nothing, leave.
And my mother, her furious smallness,
her way of saying her blade, the oil and onion’s hiss:
from her I learned what lies beneath.

Mystic, Istanbul, Jakarta, Dar es Salaam —
what was I meant to keep?
If the distances to which I’ve was given
suggest some wantless heaven
of the mind, what in me still traces
the creekbed creases
in the rough skin of the palm
of one so long asleep.

If I say I loved the seagull
tethered to its cry, the cypress’s imprisoned winds,
speak to the brink of my hands
a moss-covered rock
soft and knobby as a kitten’s skull.
If I say I loved.

Boston, Lisbon, Cardiff, Asunción:
what name is not a horizon?
Somewhere it is evening,
light grown mild and pliable,
wielded by wave and rock,
in the shore’s trees torn apart. . .


Here are the poems in this section, and the ones emphasized are those which I particularly appreciated.

  • Voice of Once Head
  • Country in Search of a Symbol
  • The Wind Is Once Force
  • Hermitage
  • Late Fragment
  • Do You Remember the Rude Nudists
  • Bombs Rock Cairo
  • Not Altogether Gone
    • 1. Dipped into Frenzy
    • 2. Like a Dog Existence Is
    • 3. Not Altogether Gone
    • 4. Fuck Dominoes
    • 5. American Cheese
    • 6. As in a Freak Nook
    • 7. Now, When There Is No Now to Burn
  • A Good Landscape for Grief
  • Jouissance

Timothy O’Grady and Steve Pyke’s I Could Read the Sky

Since I am composing a book of poems and photographs for my undergraduate these, my advisor suggested that I read a book called I Could Read the Sky. This is a novel and series of photographs jointly composed by novelist Timothy O’Grady and photographer Steve Pyke. The images and the novel tell the story of Irish emigration through the particular story of one man who moves from the West coast of Ireland to the cities of England.

I have a few significant praises for the book. First it does combine these to media, image and word. And it doesn’t merely combine them, but does so decently well, without it feeling forced. My second praise is that the novel does possess a lyrical quality that sadly many novels do not possess.

My main issue with the book is that it feels untethered. It’s not until the last two or three chapters where any real sense is made. The novel walks a line between pleasant ambiguity and unhelpful vagueness, and sadly, I believe it favors the latter.


The Prose

I hold onto myself for anchorage. (p. 3)

+

“The mad may be blessed.” (p. 17)

+

“We are the immortals,” says P. J. He has a few jars on him. “We have one name and we have one body. We are always in our prime and we are always fit for work. We dig the tunnels, lay the rails and build the roads and buildings. But we leave no other sign behind us. We are unknown and unrecorded. We have many names and none are our own. Whenever the stiffness and pain come in and the work gets harder, as it did for Roscoe, we change again into our younger selves. On and on we go. We are like the bottle that never empties. We are immortal.” (p. 69)

+

What I couldn’t do.
Eat a meal lacking potatoes. Trust banks. Wear a watch. Ask a woman to go for a walk. Work with drains or with objects smaller than a nail. Drive a motor car. Eat tomatoes. Remember the routes of buses. Wear a collar in comfort. Win at cards. Acknowledge the Queen. Abide loud voices. Perform the manners of greeting and leaving. Save money. Take pleasure in work carried out in a factory. Drink coffee. Look into a wound. Follow cricket. Understand the speech of a man from west Kerry. Wear shoes or boots made from rubber. Best P. J. in an argument. Speak with men wearing collars. Stay afloat in water. Understand their jokes. Face the dentist. Kill a Sunday. Stop remembering. (p. 71)

+

I will never again have such a respect for a living person and now that he is no longer here I will not be able to stop things falling from their places. A sadness reaches like a clawed hand into my bones and organs. It fills the spaces between. It is heavy and strong. I believe that this sadness can never leave me. (p. 74)

+

The month of my mother’s death is November. Dark clouds rolling into the hillside as I walk with Carney’s spade across the neck of sand to the graveyard. “They opened her up and the cancer was everywhere,” said Dermot’s wife. “She was black with it. It was a mercy she went.” I find Da’s grave and begin to dig. In the earth there’s splintered wood, a button from a woman’s dress, nails, shells dropped by gulls, a shard of blue delft, a coffee can from America. They opened her up and she was black inside. How much of this can I bear? Everything is shaking. I dig until I come to Da. The force of the air seems enough to break my bones. I dig around the coffin and I haul it up. Don’t spill out, I beg him. It begins to rain. I get back in the grave to dig some more. I kneel. I ask for help, help from anywhere. When the grave is deep enough I try to get out but I slip in the mud. I grab at clumps of grass and the edges of the gravestones, I pull myself up and I edge the coffin closer to the mouth of the grave. I lie in the mud and guide it down. Please God the wood will hold. I hear him rolling inside. I get the coffin to the base of the grave, I right it and I cover it with grass. What is this thing that is on me? I remember anger from when the paymaster in Blackheath wouldn’t pay me what was owed. I remember Kate Creevy boarding the train. I remember loneliness and the walls of Quex Road. I remember pure sadness. This is not any of those but some of all of them maybe and more. What is the more, though? I see myself running around the graveyard, up over the wall and into the sea. There would be no comfort in sleep or in drink. It is like something is covering me that threatens my breath. It is like something is moving that will break things inside me. (p. 109)

+

I am seeking the darkness. (p. 112)

+

I could seek the darkness. (p. 113)

+

I could lose the music. (p. 113)

+

“I read a book once,” he says. “I read many one time. The thing about a book is that the man who is writing brings all the lives from all the different places and makes them flow together in the same stream. As they move down towards the end it’s like they have loops and holes and shapes that all fit together just nicely so that they’re just one big piece really. You can look back and see how all of them got where they are. That’s the time the writer brings the book to an end and there’s no seeing past it. I’d like to meet the man who wrote a book like that so I could ask him where he got those lives. I never met anything like that in all my time. I look back and I see a big field full of mud, people and animals sliding and me sliding with them. There’s no end. There’s just times when some are standing and some are fallen.” (p. 117)

+

I know then that you play not for what you can give anyone or what they think of you but only for the sake of the tune itself. (p. 123)

+

The meaning of a thing that brings you pleasure can come slowly but I got the fullness of this picture just when I saw it. (p. 144)

+

Music happens inside you. It moves the things that are there from place to place. It can make them fly. It can bring you the past. It can bring you things that you do not know. It can bring you into the moment that is happening. It can bring you a cure. (p. 146)

+

Then without warning there was Maggie and there was light and there was a road ahead to receive us. (p. 150)

+

There is no comfort or no ending of anything with the earth settling over her where she rests but there is pity and there is peace, or maybe a picture of a peace that will be one day. (p. 154)

+

I walk now with nothing along with me, no sounds, no pictures, nothing of what was in happiness or in pain. I walk in forgetfulness, all that I pass seeming to vanish as I go. (p. 159)

+

This is a time of forgetfulness and after comes a time when you know again what you can do. There can be a time too when the work is complete.
In the morning light I let go. (p. 160)


The Photographs

Hands

Portrait: Bearded Man

Portrait: Man with Hat

Portrait: Two Women

Portrait: Old Man

Scarecrow

Portrait: Man with Plaid Hat

Man in Train Tunnel

Woman on Staircase

Memorabilia

Final Picture: A Beachside Landscape

Christian Wiman, Every Riven Thing, The Mole

So I caved in and decided to return to Christian Wiman before moving on to a new contemporary poet. I previously read Christian Wiman’s collection of poems, Once in the West (2014). Now I have begun Every Riven Thing (2011), and I have finished the first part (of four parts) of this book of poems.

Part One includes these poems:

  • Dust Devil
  • After the Diagnosis
  • Five Houses Down
  • To Grasp at the Mercury Minnows Are
  • Sitting Down to Breakfast Alone
  • All Good Conductors
  • It Takes Particular Clicks
  • The Mole
  • Darkcharms
  • Every Riven Thing
  • This Mind of Dying
  • One Time
    • 1. Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
    • 2047 Grace Street
  • From a Window

I have colored my favorites red. Wiman seems to be slightly more bent toward the formal. He more often has regular stanzaic structure, and more often than not employs a consistent rhyme scheme.

My return to Wiman has proven him to be a resonant voice in my library.

Here is “The Mole” from the first section of Every Riven Thing

After love
discovers it,
the little burn
or birthmark
in an odd spot
he can neither see
nor reach; after
the internist’s
downturned mouth,
specialists leaning
over him like
diviners, machines
reading his billion
cells; after
the onslaught
of insight, cures
crawling through him
like infestations,
so many surgeries
a wrong move
leaves him leaking
like overripe fruit;
after the mountain
aster and ice
wine, Michigan
football, Canes
Venatici and
the Four North
Fracture Zone
shrink to a room
where voices grow
hushed as if
at some holy
place, and even
in the kindest

eye there lurks
the eternity
to which he’s been
commended; after
speech, touch,
even the instinct
to eat are gone,
and he has become
nothing but
a collection of quiet
tics and twitches
as if something
wanted out
of his riddled
bones, the carious
maze of his brain;
as the last day 
glaciers into his room
glass and chrome
so infinites-
imally facet-
ed it seems

he lives inside

a diamond, he breaks
into a wide
smile, as if joy
were the animal
in him, blind,
scrabbling, earth-
covered creature
tunneling
up from God
knows where to stand
upright, feasting
on distances, gazing
dead into the sun.

Geoffrey Brock, Weighing Light

As I have said before, I am working on my undergraduate these, a book of poems and photographs paired together. I have been working under working poet and editor and professor Geoffrey Brock. I recently finished his earlier book of poetry, Weighing Light.

Here is what Richard Wilbur himself said about this work:

Geoffrey Brock’s poems are delightful in ways which are all too rare nowadays. I am grateful for their freshness of attack, the play and interplay of their words, and their speaking voice, which talks so often in the key of rueful comedy.

I think Brock balances well cutting sincerity with humor well in this book of poems. As he is trained in prosody, he writes in ways in tune with traditional forms. He does so in ways not heavy-handed but masterful. I enjoyed most of all, his multipart poems: “More Light Verse,” “Mundane Comedies,” “My Austere and Lonely Office (Soliloquies),” “Orpheus Variations,” “Ovid Old,” “Speak Now (Soliliquies),” and “Transit Gloria Mundi.”

I wanted to feature one or two of his poems. I think I will choose his two soliloquy collections (mentioned above). In these his humor and sincerity overlap most clearly and perfectly, in my opinion. And perhaps I have a weakness for collections of short poems.


My Austere and Lonely Office (Soliloquies)

The Ashtray

Back then, I hated my job:
the heat, the mess, the smell.
Now my life’s too clean, too tame:
I am the Keeper of Paperclips
and I burn for the days of flame.

The Clock

I have three misshapen hands: the first hand
is the second hand, the second hand
is the minute hand, and the third hand
(the minute one) is the hour hand.
I can never keep them straight.

The Cordless Phone (Ringing)

I know, for what it’s worth,
the sacred secrets of lovers
and felons, of prostitures
and poets, but can repeat
only this ragged cry I’ve known since birth.

The Incense Burner

I think
the ashtray
has a crush on me —
I’ll send up
a signal.

The Letter Opener

I long to be a tempered sword, or even a knife
with a real edge. With every envelope
I open, I imagine bright flesh
rending, my thin body
bathed in blood.

The Mechanical Pencil

Gray matter funnels
through me and out,
translates itself into
strange abstractions.
The peristalsis of all.

The Paperclips (In Unison)

If you find the Stapler’s governing philosophy
unsettling, even fascistic (as we do), then consider
that our gentler methodology allows you to form
more peaceful unions, looser confederations,
and protects each member from harm.

The Scissors

I am plural. To become one
with my purpose, I must cut
something in two. This is how

I am made. Divided against my
self, I want everything divided.

The Stapler

The many who have become one in my embrace
can never deny their common bond, it’s true
or forget
their place,
but I see order, not violence, in that — don’t you?

The Wineglass

Only when I am full of wine
do I recall how empty I have been.
And only when I recall how empty I’ve been
do I know how empty I’ll be again.
Only when I am full of wine.


Speak Now (Soliloquies)

The Bouquet

No one ever talks about
what becomes of the bride’s bouquet
after I’ve been flung and caught
by blossoming girls on a sunny day.
(They know, of course. They just can’t bear to say.)

The Cake Statuette

We’ve posed all day in formal dress,
feet iced, arms intertwined.
And though you’d never guess
from our perfect, plastic smiles,
we mind.

A Champagne Flute (Slightly Drunk)

You don’t have to be Phi Beta Kappa
to look at this pair and know
true love is sometimes faux
(It ain’t champagne, mon frére, 

if the grapes were grown in Napa.)

The Garter

The pulse and musk of her in this dark tent —
life will never again be as good as this.
After he hikes the dress, what then? A year or
maybe two (brief afterglow of bliss!)
of hanging limply from his rear-view mirror.

The Getaway Car

I’ve never looked so dumb in all my life.
I thought the man had balls.
I thought he liked things my way.
A wife! Before we reach Niagara Falls
I swear I’ll drop my trannie on the highway.

The Knife

Let’s admit impediments:
I tire of my diet of cake and more cake.
What about some cheese, some steak?
(Once I nicked a bride’s tongue, just to try it —
I haven’t been sharpened since.)

The Photographer’s Camera

These gigs are just to pay the bills, you know?
I’m actually an artist. Experimental?
I did once have a show, which went quite well.
The thing is, though, I’m into the accidental —
my stuff’s not decorative enough to sell.

The Rice (in Dirge-Like Unison)

We have been known to feed
the poor. Yet here we’re thrown
into the laughing, shouting faces of the rich. . .
And if we sprout, it’s only as a weed
rising from birdshit in a ditch.

The Veil

I’m gifted: I see them as they are,
yet hide them from their spouse-to-be.
Until I’m lifted, what they mostly see
(as each embroiders the other’s face
with swatches of my lace) is me.

The Wedding Ring

I’m glad you like my rocks.
But I feel what Snow White
must have felt when her prince
finally showed: delighted
just to get out of that damn box.

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Conclusion

A quotation and two questions from the concluding section of St. Athanasius’ treatise, On the Incarnation.

Quotation

You will also know of his second glorious and truly divine manifestation to us, when he comes no longer in lowliness but i his own glory, no longer with humility but in his own magnificence, no longer to suffer but to bestow thenceforth the fruit of his own cross on all — no longer judged, but judging all according to what has done in the body, whether good or evil, whence there is laid up for the good kingdom of heaven, but for them that have done evil, eternal fire and outer darkness.

§56

Particular Question
What is meant by the word “inspired?”

Universal Question 
If the second coming fully ushers the kingdom of God, what exactly did the Cross do?