These are powerful poems by an author who has completely mastered the tradition. Wilson's poems display a rare degree of skill and ambition, but he is never content with mere virtuosity, always reaching for spiritual and emotional intensity.
This is James Matthew Wilson’s first full-length book of poems, and a singularly powerful announcement it is . . . philosophy, metaphysics, theology, the American political scene viewed through the complex lenses of the classics, with allusions ranging from the ancients to the moderns . . . all woven into a complex music which has anchored itself in the long tradition of meter and rhyme. . . He is a word painter . . . with the eye of someone for whom the essential being of things—the quiddity, the inscape—leads again and again into a deeper mystery. Here is a serious poet, not yet forty, who is, I can only hope, at the beginning of a long and illustrious journey in the best and most profound tradition of Dante, Hopkins, David Jones, Auden, Eliot, and Franz Wright.
These are tightly woven lines seeking to impart the complexity of experience, and its intensity, too. And behind the felt moment and perceived object is a desire for something more.
This book will undoubtedly propel Wilson into the first rank of conservative public intellectuals . . . The Vision of the Soul is a defense of Christian Platonism, which Wilson says is at the core of the Western intellectual tradition . . . Wilson's book gives a defense of the Western tradition that is breathtaking in its depth and clarity, conveyed in prose that genuinely delights with its elegance, lucidity, and splendor. I have never read a book in which content so profound takes flight with such lightness and style. It's like watching a 747 maneuver with the grace and precision of a hummingbird. Future generations of conservatives will look back to their encounter with The Vision of the Soul with the same sense of gratitude and awe that we today remember the first time we read Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk. This book is not only true and good, but also beautiful.
James Matthew Wilson is truly alive with the wonder of Creation and with the Logos that gives it meaning. He is also truly a master of words, weaving them so that they are carriers of the goodness, truth, and beauty of which he writes. In the words of Hopkins, Wilson's words are "dovewinged" and "carrier-witted". They lift us into the presence of the very essence of reality, its being, so that our minds and hearts might be opened, dilated, to the goodness, truth, and beauty which is the triune splendor of love.
What is poetry and what is poetry for? To ask the first question is to ask the second. To answer both questions in light of the western tradition stretching back to Homer, and against much modernist and postmodernist poetic theory and practice, is the goal of this remarkable book. Poetry’s final end is nothing less or other than to arouse in us a profound sense of wonder in coming to know, as Wilson says, that “Reality as a whole is formed as the good-world-order, the intelligible beauty showing forth from [the] cosmic circle of procession and return.” With this in mind, Wilson clearly demonstrates that poetry has become deficient not only in form but also in matter—and in logic and grammar as well. How far poets have fallen away, both in theory and in practice, from an understanding of the nature of metrical composition is the subject of this book’s earlier chapters—chapters filled with Wilson’s razor-sharp wit, skillfully employed in his analysis of what too often passes for poetry at present.
In The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry, poet and critic James Matthew Wilson offers a succinct summary of how Catholicism’s unified and sacramental vision of the world influenced some of the twentieth century’s most original voices. His elegant and sure-footed treatment of work of nearly 20 poets—from George Santayana’s aesthetics of ascent to Dana Gioia’s dramatic lyricism—make this is essential reading for any student of modern American poetry.
James Matthew Wilson's poems are those of a searching, philosophical, and subtle mind treating themes of the inner and outer life of our contemporary world. Understanding our human nature as inevitably "violent and abyssal," as St. Augustine wrote of infants at their mothers' breasts, he affirms that we must negotiate successfully between "discipline and desire" to build a satisfactory life.
-Helen Pinkerton Trimpi
Remember the new formalists, who insisted on bringing meter and rhyme and form back into the American poetic mainstream? Well, take this first full collection [Some Permanent Things] by a poet of the generation after theirs as a solid indicator of their success. Wilson writes formal verse as if it were the air he breathes; his sonnets, sestinas, and such are as natural as his blank verse.
In the versatile fluency of meter in Steele's poetry, Wilson finds evidence that meter is not an inauthentic human artifice obscuring natural realities. Rather, this versatility of meter helps establish that "the imagination is not in competition, but in harmony, with nature," a harmony so complete that it manifests "the compatibility of nature and spirit."
James Matthew Wilson’s Four Verse Letters consists of four epistolary poems. Wilson addresses his father, mother, and two brothers in smooth rhyming pentameters. Although he is associated with Dana Gioia and the West Chester New Formalists, he is perhaps more of an old formalist. These poems have something of the feel of MacNeice’s Autumn Journal.
-Notre Dame Review