A tribute to a vanished world, Wiman's prize-winning first book consists of a long narrative and 12 short poems about rites of passage of a large "shadowed family" of sharecroppers in north Texas. Josie, Wiman's narrator, describes how three generations of her "day-laboring" family face up to nature and death in "the wide/ wind riffled whiteness someone farmed." Behind the narrator's (and Wiman's?) act of remembrance ("lives like smoke unspooling from a candle's/ Flame") is the ongoing moral development of character. Unachieved needs for nourishment deepen into a quest for quality of life. Rural Texas is presented realistically ("broken hoe, heel-bolts and clevises"), and often Josie's plain speech grows poetic: "I turned, dream-fingers linked with mine to lead/ Me home, the way I'd taken like a seam/ Laid out between the unsown fields of darkness." Although this sophisticated vision is at odds with gritty henhouse and warped floorboard, still one comprehends that "Home/ is momentary, a way/ of seeing." Wiman's empathetic story of belonging, endurance, and memory is a delight.--Frank Allen, Northampton Community Coll., Tannersville, PA
Winner of this year's Roerich Prize, Wiman's austere volume derives its plain aesthetic from the landscape in which it dwells: the west Texas where his family settled in the early part of the century, a terrain as spare and still as the calm centers of Wiman's tight and meditative poems. Though very much a family historian, Wiman's "he" remains smartly impersonal as he tries to recover a fading past of a woman who communed with storms ("Revenant"), another who's losing her hearing ("Hearing Loss"), and a dying fisherman solaced with his friends' fish tales ("Fisherman"). The thoughtful narratives here work toward their hardscrabble insights: a half-standing house in a clearing leads him to think "a nun could suddenly want his life' ("Clearing"); his father's profound aphorisms resonate in "What I Know," and he understands impermanence, and his presence as "only a passing/havoc" in "Elsewhere." The long narrative poem of the title chronicles a family's history as it settles western Texas in the early '20s-how they eked a living from the unyielding earth, first sharecropping, then owning their own farm through drought and depression. Biblical in tone, Wiman's tale of ordinary madness, fire and death, and loss ends amidst the rubble of the farmhouse, in the ever-present stillness of empty space. Wiman finds God in this past, in lines that are like the rain in "Lakeview Cemetery": clean and elliptical. The debut of a poet we will reckon with over time. .
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.