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Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet

Overview


“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...

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Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet

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Overview


“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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Before assuming command of a revamped Poetrymagazine in 2002, Wiman already wielded a reputation as a serious, outspoken poet-critic. 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 first few essays describe Wiman's early life in a tough West Texas town, full of "nameless angers and solitudes" and "idealized, sometimes inexplicable violence." Later pieces examine his rough international travels, struggles with major illness and Christian belief. In between come pronouncements and propositions about poetry: it must consider lived experience and reflect both the tradition from which it comes and the poet's times. Hardy, Eliot, Heaney and Walcott merit high praise, as does the Scottish poet George Mackay Brown; Millay, Crane and Bunting get fascinatingly ambivalent appraisals. The collection's greatest strengths come in general ruminations on the writing, reading and judging of poetry, such as "[T]here is a direct correlation between the quality of the poem and the poet's capacity for suffering." Or "Most lasting art is made by people who believe with everything in them that art is for the sake of life, but who live otherwise." (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

In finely polished prose, Wiman (editor, Poetrymagazine; The Long Home) critiques several poets' work and details a poem's creation as well as offers personal memoir and insights into the world of poetry publication. Readers will find him reflected at the turn of a page or in the twist of a phrase: e.g., "reaching to remember as the god withdraws, doubt like silence seeping back in" (what poets endure between inspirations). Wiman's personal recollections, especially of his perplexing relationship with his father, portray an upbringing variously tragic, quirky, and mundane. In the section titled "In the Flux That Abolishes Me," Wiman casts light on how poetry editors-at least this poetry editor-treat "manuscripts from dead people," those desperate posthumous submissions from the family or friends of an unpublished poet. In other sections, he dissects selected poets' works with scalpel-like precision, speaking, e.g., to Thomas Hardy's "crocheted fatalism" and Edna St. Vincent Millay's compromised innocence. The last section, "Love Bade Me Welcome," sums up the trilogy of faith, love, and art that Wiman pursued all his life and reveals, ultimately, the mortal reason he shares his splendid thoughts with us. A beautiful, insightful work; highly recommended for both public and academic libraries and invaluable for poets.
—Nedra Crowe-Evers

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556592607
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2007
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 369,642
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author


Christian Wiman was born and raised in west Texas. His poetry and criticism appears widely in magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and Slate. His first book won the Nicholas Roerich Prize, and he has won the Ruth Lilly and Wallace Stegner Fellowships. He lives in Chicago, where he is the editor of Poetry magazine.
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