The consistently excellent magazine of the ALSCW, Literary Matters, has just released its latest issue, which includes, among many, many other items, a poem of mind, called "Sloth." This is the last in my series of four Sapphics to be published. It begins,
When autumn came, my grandfather set up
Behind a metal desk in his garage,
With slender ballpeen hammer and curved pick
….. To hull and crack
The acrid mound of tennis-ball-sized husks
From which he freed those gnarled piths of black walnuts
Gathered beneath our trees the weeks before
….. And meant for this.
Click the logo above to read the whole thing.
In the interest of economy, I sent out, just this morning, a humble first newsletter to those who have registered for it through this website. If you are interested in rare and periodic announcements and summaries of what work I am publishing, please visit the Forms page on this website and join the fun. Alas, because of the design of this webpage, hyperlinks appear in white font, and so what looks like a Mad Lib below will in fact reveal itself, if your mouse simply scrolls over the apparently missing text.
After dawdling for more than a year, I thought it time to kick off the JamesMatthewWilson.com periodic newsletter, which will serve, as the website primarily serves, to provide news to interested readers about what and where my work has been appearing. Feel free to pass this on to others who may find it of interest, and by all mean, encourage readers to visit the site; I have new work appearing about once a week, including my monthly column for The Catholic Thing and my ongoing series on Catholicism and poetry (and Catholic thought and literature more generally) for Catholic World Report.
This has been an unusually fruitful year, made possible in part by a year's leave to spend my days writing and studying. By the end of the summer, I should have completed my next prose book, a scholarly work on literary modernism and Catholic philosophical theology, called Catholic Modernism and the Irish Avant-Garde. If you had assumed that St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Blaise Pascal played little role in the making of modern poetry, you may be correct, but I shall show in this new book that for three unusually devout Irish modernist writers at least, the greatness of the Catholic tradition was thoroughly fused to their practice of an often cosmopolitan and complex modernist art.
In October, Angelico published my second full length collection of poems, The Hanging God. The reception has so far been uniformly positive and enthusiastic: more than seven reviews have offered high praise of the volume. You might begin with Frank Wilson's superb study of the poems (the link includes also my television interview, out in San Francisco, that touches on a number of matters). Upon its publication, I felt obliged to revise my first book, Some Permanent Things, in order to correct the somewhat looser practice of rhyme and meter found in those poems and, at least, to bring into print the completed form of my sequence "The Christmas Preface." Wiseblood issued Some Permanent Things Second Edition, Revised and Expanded, just before Christmas, and I've been thrilled by the response to this much revised, much reordered, significantly expanded version of the book; it strikes me as a new book altogether. The response has been very positive, with the young poet Daniel Rattelle offering a brief, cogent study of some of my changes and why they bear fruit.
In a year of mostly good news, it is hard to pick just one more item to share with you, but I think it ought to be this. The great poet Samuel Hazo and I convened in the Gentile Gallery, at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, at the end of April, to celebrate a new beginning. Franciscan's University Press now publishes my book series, Colosseum Books, which will bring into print works of poetry and poetry criticism that demonstrate a commitment to serious craft and spiritual depth in the Catholic tradition. Sam effectively is the author of the first three books in our series, his final collection of poems, When Not Yet Is Now, the publication sixty years on of his dissertation on Jacques Maritain and the poets (for which I wrote a lengthy critical introduction that provides a comprehensive account of Maritain as a Godfather to modern Catholic arts and letters), and, forthcoming, The Power of Less, a second, expanded edition of a book of Sam's literary essays that reflect on poetry with sophistication but in a familiar voice that will invite new readers into the conversation and life of this ancient, forbidding, but soul-transforming art.
As editor and director of Colosseum Books, I will build up a list of serious new work that every literate person will want to read; beginning this July, I shall direct the Colosseum Summer Institute, hosting aspiring writers for four days of discussion on the philosophy of art and beauty, the craft of prosody, and the practice of the art.
Thanks for your interest in these many endeavors, which are done at the service of the Church and the intellectual life in our day, when so much of the culture has turned against truth, goodness, and beauty in favor of an abyss of nihilistic rage and therapeutic consumerism.
When I published Some Permanent Things Second Edition, Revised and Expanded, back in December, I mostly hoped people would forget the first edition and simply embrace the new, much better, one. But of course, the radical revisions found in that book are a testament to how much I've learned over the last four years, and in that respect -- as a testimony to humility and craft -- I'm pleased to see that the poet Daniel Rattelle, part of our true guild of younger serious poets in the trade, has written a review essay that takes the measure of my work's growth between first and second editions. Click the ceiling to read, "An Old Flag in the Collective Attic."
Last Friday's exciting afternoon of poetry and discussion at the Franciscan University of Steubenville was, it turns out, live-streamed and is now available for viewing at leisure. See below, for my introduction of Colosseum, a recitation of some of my poems, and a brilliant reading by Samuel Hazo of his own work. To learn more about Colosseum Books and the Colosseum Institute, click the icon above.
My 2018-2019 events are still in formation, but I wanted to get these two important fall dates public and on everyone's calendar immediately. Please click the icons to learn more about each event, and check back regularly to learn about more upcoming readings and lectures. The spring events are especially varied and promising; please consider attending if you live near Philadelphia, Dallas, or San Francisco. Information has been updated.
As I was getting ready for my trip to New York, to deliver a poetry reading sponsored by the University Bookman (see my calendar of events page), I noticed that Dappled Things has released its new issue online, wherein three of my poems appear.
"The Imaginary Chapel" and "In the Cry Room" are excerpted from Some Permanent Things Second Edition, Revised and Expanded. They are small selections from my longer sequence, "Four Verse Letters." Have a look by clicking the issue cover at left. And, ahem, you may even find yourself moved to pick up a copy of the Second Edition.
Dappled Things also includes "On a Rain Barrel," which is part of my ongoing "All Things" series, a series that will be collected in my next full-length collection, On the New Physics (I note rather prematurely, as I am keeping it embargoed for another three years).
I have included a link to the whole table of contents of the new issue, not only to make it easier to access any of the three poems, but also because the whole issue is really terrific. Maryann Corbett's poems are, per usual, models of excellence.
The great Frank Wilson, retired literary editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, has just published a new review of The Hanging God in Catholic World Report. He observes,
"Literary taxonomists would peg Wilson as a formalist. But while his mastery of meter, rhyme, and stanza is certainly noteworthy, what is really remarkable is how this virtuosity is so completely subordinated to the imaginative vision informing the poems."
Read the whole thing by clicking the book cover!
Last month, I appeared on J.A. Gray's talk show, Mosaic, sponsored by the Archdiocese of San Francisco, along with fellow poet and essayist, Joseph Bottum, to talk about Rene Girard, art, and Catholic artists. You can view the interview below. Aside from joining two friends whom I've long admired, I was also pleased to recite my poem, "A Prayer for Livia Grace," as a reminder of how to keep oneself human in an increasingly dehumanizing age.
You may have previously seen Steven Knepper's insightful and generous reviews of Some Permanent Things and The Hanging God, in The University Bookman. I have been broadcasting the latter for a couple weeks now, as it is such a satisfaction. In the new issue of Humanitas, Knepper has reviewed The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition. His is the first review to engage thoroughly with the argument and to specify the effort the book makes, among many contemporary efforts, to renew a rich everyday metaphysics in philosophy and in the world more generally.
If you click the Vision of the Soul cover at left, it will take you to my Sightings page, where you can quickly click on any or all of Knepper's reviews. Humanitas is not online, and so this will be the only place most people can read that excellent little essay unto itself.
The official website for the Colosseum Summer Institute is still in process. In the meantime, here is the official announcement and application information. Click the Colosseum Books Logo to download a pdf version. Applications are now being accepted.
Colosseum Books and the Franciscan University of Steubenville invite applications to the Colosseum Summer Institute. The Institute is an annual, intensive course and workshop in the art of poetry for aspiring writers who wish to apprentice themselves to the great and enduring tradition of Catholic letters. Come to the Franciscan University campus (in Steubenville, OH) for four days of study, conversation, writing, and critique.
We will examine the philosophy of art and beauty alongside the history of poetic form, and will gather all things together in the actual practice and discussion of the art of poetry. We hope to renew the tradition, to strengthen contemporary literature, and to build up a community of writers who care about making a good work, at once well-crafted and spiritually profound.
The Colosseum Summer Institute will begin the evening of July 8, 2019, with a dinner reception and public reading. For the next three days, participants will convene each morning for two courses: the first, to discuss the philosophy and purpose of art and beauty in the life of the Christian, and the second, to study the history and practice of prosody in English verse. After lunch, participants will have much of the afternoon to work on their poetry, before convening in the late afternoon for an intensive workshop to evaluate and improve their work. Each evening, after dinner, participants will have the opportunity to attend a public poetry reading by a distinguished writer or musical performance and to gather for convivial discussion. Opportunities to learn more about contemporary literary publishing and for participants to perform their own work will also be included among the activities. The Institute will conclude on the afternoon of July 11, 2019.
The tuition for the Institute is $550 and is all inclusive: each participant will have a private room (with air conditioning and private bath); all meals catered (breakfast, lunch and dinner); and we will also provide transportation to and from the Pittsburgh airport, for those who need it.
To apply, please send (as a single .pdf document) a letter explaining why you wish to attend the Institute and a portfolio of 4-5 poems, with “Colosseum Summer Institute” in the subject heading, to email@example.com (limited to 15 students; application deadline is May 31st). Applicants must be at least 18 years of age by start of the Institute. Accepted participants will be expected to be familiar with the basic terms and concepts of English prosody prior to their arrival for the Institute; a recommended reading list in support of that end will be sent to all participants in early June.
About Colosseum Books. Colosseum Books is an annual series of volumes of new poetry and poetry criticism that exhibit spiritual and intellectual depth and an understanding of verse as a craft guided by enduring tradition, metrical rigor, and a commitment to the well-made thing. Each Colosseum book will be published by the Franciscan University of Steubenville Press. In the ancient world, the civilizational achievements of Rome were transformed and leavened by the spirit of Christianity. The Colosseum stood as a symbol of the struggle and suffering such a new birth entailed, but also of final victory and union, as Christendom emerged to take possession of the treasures of Athens and Jerusalem with Rome as its spiritual capital. We honor that spirit of engagement and enduring tradition by seeking to perpetuate it through the publication of good new work by contemporary writers.
In the mail yesterday arrived some copies of Alabama Literary Review 2018, which includes two new poems of mine, "On a Cocktail Umbrella" and "High Seriousness." ALR has a policy of distributing print copies and also publishing a .pdf of the complete issue online (past issues, including 2016-2017, which feature a significant amount of my work, are available online). I will post a link to the complete issue, when it becomes available. For the moment, however, click the link to receive a .pdf of my poems. A late stanza from "High Seriousness":
We need, in fact, to be thrown down, horse bolting,
And blinded by the gravid flash of truth,
Which suffers no glib smiling, if we’re ever
To heed our calling.
My latest column for The Catholic Thing, "Pranked by the Cross," has just been published. Click on James Joyce to read.
The February 2019 issue of First Things is out, and within it comes these kinds words in a short review from the poet and critic Dan Rattelle:
In the literary world, any review is considered a good review, but I have been singularly blessed in my critics. I encourage you to take Mr. Ratelle's advice, by clicking the book cover above.
What is the purpose of an author's site but to spread word about the author's work? And so, I'm happy to share two tidbits of good words here, as we approach the Christmas Season.
Novelist Glynn Young, in his annual "Books I'm not recommending for Christmas" list, writes:
It was a good year for poetry. Highlights for me included The Chance for Home by Mark Burrows, The Fall of Gondolin by J.R. R. Tolkien, Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation by Marjorie Maddox, and The Bell and the Blackbird by David Whyte.
And Catholic World Report editor-in-chief, Carl E. Olson, writes with equal generosity in that magazine's annual review of the best books of the year:
Last year, I wrote that “James Matthew Wilson seems to write a brilliant book each year.” On cue, his collection of poems, The Hanging God, arrived a few weeks ago. Wilson is remarkable poet on several counts, but the two that stand out to me are his theological brilliance (reminding me at times of T.S. Eliot) and his ability to employ, without any sense of manipulation, a variety of voices and perspectives. Put another way, his poems are deeply rooted in the messiness of life while drawing upon and pointing to the mysterious edges of eternity. A book to be slowly savored.
Not too slowly, I hope. It was wonderful news to hear that already this book, such an agony in some ways to compose, is finding its mark in the hearts and minds of good readers. Thank you. (As always, you can click on the icons to be taken to the original web pages.)
John Davidson, in The Federalist, also recommends my study of conservative thought, metaphysics, and aesthetics, The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition as a Best Book of 2018:
Why is western civilization in a state of decay? A recent volume by James Matthew Wilson aims to answer that question and propose a remedy. Wilson is a poet, professor of religion and literature at Villanova University, and the poetry editor at Modern Age magazine, and his book, “The Vision of the Soul,” is an attempt to establish firm philosophical ground for a robust modern conservatism that can serve as an alternative to the ascendant liberal order.
Those who follow my announcements on this web page will know that Some Permanent Things is about to be released in a Second Edition, Revised and Expanded. The same heightening of my standards, especially in regards to the use of rhyme, that led to the second edition also informed the revisions that led up to the publication of The Hanging God. Even so, a few lines that vexed me went to press still vexing me.
In the months since, Angelico Press has graciously revised those lines to conform to my preferences; those who bought the volume prior to the Press's revisions of the text, however, may like to know what has changed. If you are one of those persons, click the book cover at left, and an Errata tear sheet will open, which you can print for your convenience.
The changes are small; they will make no difference to most people; they make a great difference to me.
Stay tuned for a more significant announcement over the weekend.
Law and Liberty publishes today my reflection on Hilaire Belloc's classic of Catholic revolutionary social theory, The Servile State.
I don't have occasion to comment on things religious and political as much as I did of old, which is fine by me; it is however nice to pay homage to those who have shaped my political imagination, including Russell Kirk in October and now Belloc in December. There's a small chance I will resume my old avocation of cultural commentary in the near future, however. Check back here regularly to learn more.
Click Old Thunder's Visage to have a look.
Now, back to proof reading Some Permanent Things, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded.
I have just been made aware that the Mars Hill Audio Journal, that great repository of wisdom and good talk, has included an interview with me, on truth, goodness, beauty, and the nature of liberal education, in its new issue. Click the icon at left to preview the current issue, and, please, consider subscribing.
To see is to gain, perhaps to gain forever as knowledge. But to see may also be to lose, as Orpheus learned long ago. To see, for instance, the new issue of Measure is also to be weighed by loss, for this is the final issue, bringing to a close a magnificent run. The magazine is in the process of being reborn as an online journal, and that is very good news; but nothing can quite replace the semiannual appearance of a thick little journal with wonderfully well measured poems, selections from new books, and essays on prosody. It will be missed. In the last issue appears my poem, "On a Broken Electric Guitar String." As the journal comes to a close, I've decided to provide a scanned copy of the poem, which you can read via the Measure icon below. I hope you enjoy it.
Readers who have followed my announcement about a second, revised and expanded, edition of Some Permanent Things, to be published shortly, will also be aware that I've strongly revised my standards for meter and above all rhyme, over the last few years. Any work that falls short of those standards is being revised to conform to them now. That includes this new poem; I missed the deadline, alas, to send a slightly tightened version of the poem to the editors before press time. A few rhymes don't satisfy anymore. In three or four years, when On the New Physics is published, a properly taut version of the poem will be included in my All Things sequence.
Finally, Rod Dreher was kind enough to print one of the poems from The Hanging God on his blog at The American Conservative. "How Many Exiles in the Monastery" seems like a very fitting poem to capture the interest of the author of The Little Way of Ruthie Lemming and How Dante Can Save Your Life. The responses to it, alas, makes one doubt the literacy of contemporary readers, but I do invite you to visit his page, if not the ever depressing comment box. Click the TAC logo to have a look.
The December issue of First Things magazine publishes my poem, "To an Unborn Child." In keeping with the incarnational nature of poiesis, it is written in a nonce cinquain, or five-line, stanza. (Click the logo to read.)
This has indeed been an autumn of births. In October, Angelico Press published my second full-length collection of poems, The Hanging God. The initial reviews have been positive and about a dozen more are promised in the coming months.
November brings the birth of the fellow described in this poem. We're counting on it, or down to it.
For December, I also have exciting news. Readers will be aware of my first full-length collection of poems, Some Permanent Things, which Wiseblood Books published in 2014 to a very good critical reception. Although the book continues to sell, I have long since decided that I would like to refine the volume and make it a book as perfect as it can be according to my somewhat more seasoned lights.
And so, next month, Wiseblood will issue a second, revised and expanded, edition of the volume. The second edition of Some Permanent Things will differ categorically from the first in three ways.
First, every poem has been significantly revised, indeed, rewritten, to attain a greater clarity of meaning, meter, and rhyme; the classical qualities that readers appreciated have been more fully realized. Second, the poems in that volume were originally intended to appear as four separate short or chapbook collections. Two actually appeared, Four Verse Letters and The Violent and the Fallen, before Wiseblood asked to publish the whole collection, which I had then ordered to look like a single unit. Now, the original four divisions into four separate sequences or books has been restored.
And this allowed for a third, important change. Two of my Advent poems appeared in the first edition; but readers will know that the remaining four of the poems of my Christmas sequence have since been published or are soon to be forthcoming. And so, for this second edition, I have added a fourth, final short sequence, The Christmas Preface. The final poem of that sequence will appear in America this Advent, just prior to the release of the second edition. I think anyone who reads it will agree that it is my best poem, or one of them.
There's an irony in taking such a harsh editorial pen to a book entitled Some Permanent Things, but indeed the title is what summoned the changes. I now believe that this first book of mine compares well with The Hanging God. Between the two of them, I think I have made a contribution of substance to contemporary American poetry. I hope you will discover them and judge for yourselves. That is my aim in any case.
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