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Every Riven Thing

Every Riven Thing

5.0 1
by Christian Wiman

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A vibrant new collection from one of America's most talented young poets

Every Riven Thing is Christian Wiman's first collection in seven years, and rarely has a book of poetry so borne the stamp of necessity. Whether in stark, haiku-like descriptions of a cancer ward, surrealistic depictions of a social order coming apart, or fluent, defiant


A vibrant new collection from one of America's most talented young poets

Every Riven Thing is Christian Wiman's first collection in seven years, and rarely has a book of poetry so borne the stamp of necessity. Whether in stark, haiku-like descriptions of a cancer ward, surrealistic depictions of a social order coming apart, or fluent, defiant outpourings of praise, Wiman pushes his language and forms until they break open, revealing startling new truths within. The poems are joyful and sorrowful at the same time, abrasive and beautiful, densely physical and credibly mystical. They attest to the human hunger to feel existence, even at its most harrowing, and the power of art to make our most intense experiences not only apprehensible but transfiguring.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Wiman attains intensity often enough to remind you of just how great Frost was, and often there is a touch of another of his masters, Richard Wilbur . . . But the best thing to say about Wiman is not that he reminds you of previous poets: It's that he makes you forget them.” —Clive James, The Financial Times

“One of the best books of poetry written in the past twenty years. It is extraordinary.” —John Poch

“Every poem seems made to steady and fortify him against mortality.” —Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker (one of the ten best books of 2010)

“One of the preeminent devotional poets of any faith now writing in English.” —David J. Rothman, First Things

“An ecstatic ruckus worthy of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who also tasted the tears in things--and the holy too.” —Dana Jennings, The New York Times

“Wiman has found in Every Riven Thing his true voice, alternately edgy and relaxed, taut and unfettered. There's fear and grief, to be sure, but also consolation and humor.” —Kevin Nance, Poets & Writers

“The work here is searingly honest and beautifully crafted, and it establishes Wiman in his most important public role: a gifted poet whose work cannot be ignored.” —Elizabeth Lund, The Christian Science Monitor

“This is haunting stuff--this is language turned and tuned to a pitch where it is both quiet scream and humble song.” —Brian Doyle, The Christian Century

“Few poets have been able to pull off contemplative/metaphysical poetry in the 20th and 21st centuries. Our detached sensibilities make that level of immersion feel overly forced. It can come off as both too submerged and too transcendent. We'd rather float. But Wiman makes a case for going old school. He dives right in to sentiment but swims up with hardly a drop of sentimentality. He asks for belief but never sounds fatuous. We are a god hungry nation. Politicians know it, and it just might be time for poets to know it. Wiman, in this case, is ahead of the curve.” —Dean Rader, The Rumpus

“Christian Wiman is fiercely dedicated to describing experiences for which there are no words--an ambition shared with many poets today. But few contemporary poets invite us to consider new ways of looking at those experiences as openly, intensely, and originally as he does.” —Mike Puican, TriQuarterly

“Wiman . . . writes with the gravity, awe, and humility of one who has been riven but lived to tell the tale, as well as ask the questions and pray the prayers that follow the experience of being broken . . . [His] use of violent imagery is reminiscent of Donne, while his reverence and musicality echo Hopkins, but the voice is his own.” —Image Update

“Christian Wiman, the visionary editor of Poetry magazine, has written a book so urgent that the poems feel carved into the skin. Looming large over Every Riven Thing is Wiman's diagnosis with a rare form of cancer, but Wiman never slips into keening or self-dramatization; neither does he let the prospect of his death hurry his prosody. Instead, quite miraculously, he uses his considerable craft -- measured, assured, but never belaboured -- to slow what little time he may have left, and savour it in language as lush and full of pathos as one is likely to encounter in contemporary verse. He writes: ‘To love is to feel your death / given to you like a sentence, / to meet the judge's eyes / as if there were a judge, / as if he had eyes / and love." In doing so he reminds us that serious craft has an ethical, as well as aesthetic, quality to it.” —Michael Lista, National Post

“I think you should go read this book, right now, and throw yourself into its brutal, beautiful simplicity . . . Wiman's poems speak of a survival, and a hope, that is neither bleak nor sentimental, but real and good and true. Praise to that, and to Wiman's reverence, which only has the power to assist our own.” —Allison Backous, Comment

“His is a world of acute insight into the human questions--of mortality, of God, of nature--rendered without proselytizing, without prognosis. He just observes, and still questions. He's as at home on the trains of the city as he is on the range of his native West Texas. He believes in God, yet leads us into the existential void, into the terror of the terminal soul. His illness sharpens his vision; his words are radiated. And yet, he's funny, using humor to disarm the darkness that lies within reach of his questions.” —Brian Hieggelke, Newcity

“Christian Wiman . . . writes poems that are a study in torque, full of twisting force, words and lines pushing and pulling each other into forms of astonishing solidity and grace. His third collection, Every Riven Thing, is a beautiful and wrenching dialogue with death, decay, and the divine and is one of the best books of poems published last year.” —Jill Owens, PowellsBooks.Blog

Dana Jennings
…a stark and moving meditation on the nature of grief, mortality and living a life of the spirit.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Grave and thoughtful, careful in its acoustic effects, and at times breathtaking in its achievement, this third set of verse from Poetry editor Wiman is by far his best. Though his forms vary, his goals and attitudes stay clear: he wants to see the ugly and the difficult without turning away, to describe them tersely and accurately, and to see the handiwork of God. Early poems handle his own chronic, serious illness, and its grueling treatments: "Needle of knowledge, needle of nothingness,/ gringing through my spine to sip at the marrow of me." Much of the rest of the volume reacts to the illness and death of the poet's father: "Not altogether gone," the elderly man looks "half-childlike... before he's seized again with a sharp impersonal turbulence/ like angry laundry." Surrounded by such failures of body and mind, Wiman (Hard Night) doubts that he can say anything fitting, or even pious, about his God, "that to say the name God/ is a great betrayal"--and yet, he tells us, he must try and try: the religious sentiments sit uneasily with the stark scenes of fact, of bodily decay and environmental destruction, but the poet insists on the reality of them all. (Nov.)
Library Journal
A sense of mortality hangs over Wiman's third collection (after The Long Home); some of these poems speak of illness and loss. Ultimately, though, this is an optimistic book that asks and then answers some of the great questions: why are we here? What is life about? How can we live wisely and praise this extraordinary earth that gives us a home? Poems such as "One Time" and "Gone for the Day, She Is the Day" explore the nature of love, especially after a serious diagnosis, while the state of ecology in an age of rapid destruction is tackled in "Country in Search of a Symbol." Wiman writes more formally than many modern poets, often incorporating rhyme. On the whole, this works well, though occasionally a rhyme seems either too easy or too forced. One of Wiman's strengths is his musical ability, shown especially in the title poem, which exhibits a kind of haunting quality. The poems as a whole pulse with color and texture, as in this celebration of changing light: "slurring such last extravagant streaks of light/ over the endless city." Despite the seriousness of the poems, humor is often included and indeed necessary, given the subject matter: witness "tumbleweeds maddening/ past in the cage of themselves." VERDICT A collection that sings with the beauty of life and at the same time acknowledges its fragility: "To believe is to believe you have been torn/ from the abyss, yet stand waveringly on its rim."—Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., IN

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Read an Excerpt

Every Riven Thing

By Christian Wiman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2010 Christian Wiman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7822-8



    Mystical hysterical amalgam of earth and wind
    and mind

    over and of
    the much-loved

    dust you go
    through a field I know

    by broken heart
    for I have learned this art

    of flourishing

    wherein to live
    is to move


    wild untouchable toy
    called by a boy

    God's top
    in a time when time stopped


    No remembering now
    when the apple sapling was blown
    almost out of the ground.
    No telling how,
    with all the other trees around,
    it alone was struck.
    It must have been luck,
    he thought for years, so close
    to the house it grew.
    It must have been night.
    Change is a thing one sleeps through
    when young, and he was young.
    If there was a weakness in the earth,
    a give he went down on his knees
    to find and feel the limits of,
    there is no longer.
    If there was one random blow from above
    the way he's come to know
    from years in this place,
    the roots were stronger.
    Whatever the case,
    he has watched this tree survive
    wind ripping at his roof for nights
    on end, heats and blights
    that left little else alive.
    No remembering now ...
    A day's changes mean all to him
    and all days come down
    to one clear pane
    through which he sees
    among all the other trees
    this leaning, clenched, unyielding one
    that seems cast
    in the form of a blast
    that would have killed it,
    as if something at the heart of things,
    and with the heart of things,
    had willed it.


    I loved his ten demented chickens
    and the hell-eyed dog, the mailbox
    shaped like a huge green gun.
    I loved the eyesore opulence
    of his five partial cars, the wonder-cluttered porch
    with its oilspill plumage, tools
    cauled in oil, the dark
    clockwork of disassembled engines
    christened Sweet Baby and benedicted Old Bitch;
    and down the steps into the yard the explosion
    of mismatched parts and black scraps
    amid which, like a bad sapper cloaked
    in luck, he would look up stunned,
    patting the gut that slopped out of his undershirt
    and saying, Son,
    you lookin' to make some scratch?

    All afternoon we'd pile the flatbed high
    with stacks of Exxon floormats
    mysteriously stenciled with his name,
    rain-rotted sheetrock or miles
    of misfitted pipes, coil after coil
    of rusted fencewire that stained for days
    every crease of me, rollicking it all
    to the dump where, while he called
    every ragman and ravened junkdog by name,
    he catpicked the avalanche of trash
    and fished some always fixable thing
    up from the depths. His endless aimless work
    was not work, my father said.
    His barklike earthquake curses
    were not curses, for he could goddamn
    a slipped wrench and shitfuck a stuck latch,
    but one bad word from me
    made his whole being
    twang like a nail mis-struck. Ain't no call for that,
    Son, no call at all
. Slipknot, whatknot,
    knot from which no man escapes —
    prestoed back to plain old rope;
    whipsnake, blacksnake, deep in the wormdirt
    worms like the clutch of mud:
    I wanted to live forever
    five houses down
    in the womanless rooms a woman
    sometimes seemed to move through, leaving him
    twisting a hand-stitched dishtowel
    or idly wiping the volcanic dust.
    It was heaven to me:
    beans and weenies from paper plates,
    black-fingered tinkerings on the back stoop
    as the sun set, on an upturned fruitcrate
    a little jamjar of rye like ancient light,
    from which, once, I took a single, secret sip,
    my eyes tearing and my throat on fire.


    To grasp at the mercury minnows are
    or were

    in childhood's kingdom
    lord of boredom

    is to see
    through an intimate, ultimate clarity

    that galaxy shatter
    and like a mind of matter

    resolve itself star by slow star.
    To grasp at the mercury minnows are ...


    Brachest, she called it, gentling grease
    over blanching yolks with an expertise
    honed from three decades of dawns
    at the Longhorn Diner in Loraine,
    where even the oldest in the old men's booth
    swore as if it were scripture truth
    they'd never had a breakfast better,
    rapping a glass sharply to get her
    attention when it went sorrowing
    so far into some simple thing —
    the jangly door or a crusted pan,
    the wall clock's black, hitchy hands —
    that she would startle, blink, then grin
    as if discovering them all again.
    Who remembers now when one died
    the space that he had occupied
    went unfilled for a day, then two, three,
    until she unceremoniously
    plunked plates down in the wrong places
    and stared their wronged faces
    back to banter she could hardly follow.
    Unmarried, childless, homely, "slow,"
    she knew coffee cut with chamomile
    kept the grocer Paul's ulcer cool,
    yarrow in gravy eased the islands
    of lesions in Larry Borwick's hands,
    and when some nightlong nameless urgency
    sent him seeking human company
    Brother Tom needed hash browns with cheese.
    She knew to nod at the litany of cities
    the big-rig long-haulers bragged her past,
    to laugh when the hunters asked
    if she'd pray for them or for the quail
    they went laughing off to kill,
    and then — envisioning one
    rising so fast it seemed the sun
    tugged at it — to do exactly that.
    Who remembers where they all sat:
    crook-backed builders, drought-faced farmers,
    VF'ers muttering through their wars,
    night-shift roughnecks so caked in black
    it seemed they made their way back
    every morning from the dead.
    Who remembers one word they said?
    The Longhorn Diner's long torn down,
    the gin and feedlots gone, the town
    itself now nothing but a name
    at which some bored boy has taken aim,
    every letter light-pierced and partial.
    Sister, Aunt Sissy, Bera Thrailkill,
    I picture you one dime-bright dawn
    grown even brighter now for being gone
    bustling amid the formica and chrome
    of that small house we both called home
    during the spring that was your last.
    All stories stop: once more you're lost
    in something I can merely see:
    steam spiriting out of black coffee,
    the scorched pores of toast, a bowl
    of apple butter like edible soil,
    bald cloth, knifelight, the lip of a glass,
    my plate's gleaming, teeming emptiness.



    O the screech and heat and hate
    we have for each day's commute,

    the long wait at the last stop
    before we go screaming

    underground, while the pigeons
    court and shit and rut

    insolently on the tracks
    because this train is always late,

    always aimed at only us,
    who when it comes with its

    blunt snout, its thousand mouths,
    cram and curse and contort

    into one creature, all claws and eyes,
    tunneling, tunneling, tunneling

    toward money.


    Sometimes a beauty
    cools through the doors at Grand,

    glides all the untouchable
    angles and planes

    of herself
    to stand among us

    like a little skyscraper,
    so sheer, so spare,

    gazes going all over her
    in a craving wincing way

    like sun on glass.


    There is a dreamer
    all good conductors

    know to look for
    when the last stop is made

    and the train is ticking cool,
    some lover, loner, or fool

    who has lived so hard
    he jerks awake

    in the graveyard,
    where he sees

    coming down the aisle
    a beam of light

    whose end he is,
    and what he thinks are chains

    becoming keys.


    Flip-flops, leash-clinks,
    spit on the concrete
    like a light slap:
    our dawn goon
    ambles past, flexing
    his pit bull. And soft,
    and soon, a low burn
    lights the flight path
    from O'Hare,
    slowly the sky
    a roaring flue
    to heaven
    slowly shut.
    Here's a curse
    for a car door
    stuck for the umpteenth
    time, here a rake
    for next door's nut
    to claw and claw
    at nothing. My nature
    is to make
    of the speedbump
    scraping the speeder's
    and the om
    of traffic, and somewhere
    the helicopter
    hovering over
    snarls — a kind
    of clockwork
    from which all things
    seek release,
    but it takes
    particular clicks
    to pique my poodle's
    interest, naming
    with her nose's
    particular quiver
    the unseeable
    squirrel. Good girl.


    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
    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 infinitesimally
    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
    up from God
    knows where to stand
    upright, feasting
    on distances, gazing
    dead into the sun.


    In the waiting room, alive together, alone together,
    bright hives humming inside of us, in spite of us ...

    * * *

    Radiated, palliated, sheened gray like infected meat,
    he takes my hand, gratified, mystified, as if we'd met on the moon.

    * * *

    Needle of knowledge, needle of nothingness,
    grinding through my spine to sip at the marrow of me.

    * * *

    To be so touched, so known, so beloved of nothing:
    a kind of chewed-tinfoil shiver of the soul.

    * * *

    Animate iron, black junk, seared feelerless, up crawls
    my cockroach hope, lone survivor of the fire I am.

    * * *

    In the world the world's unchanged to all but you:
    iodine dawns, abyss of birdsong, a friend's laughter lashes invisible whips.

    * * *

    How are you? Pity soaks the moment like wet bread.
    Do I spit it out, or must I gum this unguent down?

    * * *

    Philosophy of treatment regimens, scripture of obituaries:
    heretic, lunatic, I touch my tumor like a charm.

    * * *

    Prevarications, extenuations, tomorrow's tease of being:
    we are what we are only in our last bastions.

    * * *

    And past that?
    Now, near me, not me, a girl, shameless, veinless, screams.


Excerpted from Every Riven Thing by Christian Wiman. Copyright © 2010 Christian Wiman. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Christian Wiman, born and raised in West Texas, is the editor of Poetry and the author of two previous collections of poems, Hard Night (2005) and The Long Home (2007), and one collection of prose. He lives in Chicago.

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Every Riven Thing 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In his book of prose, AMBITION AND SURVIVAL, Christian Wiman quotes Edna St. Vincent Mallay: "Nobody speaks to me. People fall in love with me, and annoy me and distress me and flatter me and excite me- and all that sort of thing. But no one speaks to me. I sometimes think that no one can." I doubt that Mallay would say that could she have read EVERY RIVEN THING. Wiman hears the silence in Mallay which she longed for someone to hear. He hears the silence in us all. His poems seem made out of it. They help--though you sit for a long time after each reading--listening to the silence in yourself.
CAHendrix More than 1 year ago
"Beautiful" is the only word true and appropriate enough to describe Every Riven Thing. It is Wiman's death march, his autobiography, and his refusal to be shaken.