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.
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.
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.
Mark Bauerlein revisits my poetry, taking the measure of The Hanging God, in a short essay just up at First Things, "The Religious Vision of James Matthew Wilson." Bauerlein also reviewed Some Permanent Things back when it first appeared. I've gathered both reviews below; you can read them by clicking on the appropriate book cover.
In the Sarcastic but Still Flattering department, we have the poet A.M. Juster's new discussion of my poetry and the Catholic and prosodic traditions, in First Things magazine. Click the FT logo to read Juster on a "Master of Intricate Forms."
I recently sat down with Bruce Edward Walker, of Radio Free Acton, to discuss my latest book of poems, The Hanging God, and the art and tradition of poetry. You can listen to the podcast by clicking below; the interview begins at the 16:43 mark. What most pleases me here was the opportunity to recite the title poem from my first book, Some Permanent Things and to say a few words about that pretentious phrase.
For those who find the first part of the podcast of interest (for whatever reason), with its discussion of Christianity and socialism, will be pleased to hear my essay on Hilaire Belloc's The Servile State will be out later this month.
To learn more about my books, click the picture above.
I have noticed that most of my announcements on this page begin with phrasing along the lines of, "I am pleased to announce . . ." And so I am. When I think of the writing life, I find it one of serene floating, as the rhythm of sentences come forth in response to one another until something complete makes itself known, as if emerging suddenly on shore from beneath the waves; followed by concentrated, hot-eared scrutiny, as I rewrite what seemed so good on first annunciation until it fits together tightly; and consummated by that wonderful alienation, when what came forth from me is no longer quite mine, but stands apart as something for all and sundry to see.
And so, I am pleased to announce that my extended essay on that most prolific of writers, Russell Kirk of Piety Hill, has appeared in the online magazine Law and Liberty. Click the picture at left to read my thoughts on the new volume of Kirk's letters and the occasion it gives us to consider why his political imagination stands so wonderfully apart from the muck and sharp elbows of what passes for conservative politics in our degraded day. You will not be surprised to hear, will you?, that Michigan alone can save us. Call it Fordism in reverse.
National Review has just published "A School for Eternity," my account of Alan Jacobs' important new book, The Year of Our Lord 1943. I could not say all there was to say about this book in a short review, but I do believe I said enough to explain why, as a tract for our times, it demands serious attention.
Bradley Birzer's review of the book in The American Conservative takes up some of the peculiarities of the volume that merit further discussion and also (very appropriately) considers the continuation of the Christian Humanist tradition after the War in the work of such figures as Russell Kirk. Birzer and I have been thinking along similar lines; my review essay on Kirk's letters will be published later this month, as will an essay on Hilaire Belloc's The Servile State.
Click the photograph of Jacobs' favorite Christian Humanist to read the review.
Today, The Hanging God is out and for sale on amazon.com and through the publisher, Angelico Books. This, my second full-length collection of poems, will, I hope, build upon the work in Some Permanent Things to carve out a place in contemporary poetry for serious formal integrity, powerful rhythms, and a stark but spiritual vision that asks us to see into the desperate life of things. Of this new book, Rod Dreher writes,
To read The Hanging God is to experience the ordinary world transformed by sly artfulness into a place filled with mystery and meaning. James Matthew Wilson is a poet who works like a priest, rendering the elements of quotidian life—its sublime gifts and severe mercies alike—into bearers of sacramental grace. Wilson sees deeper than we do; and in these poems, with lucidity both stark and humane, he reveals profundity hidden beneath everydayness.
The great poet, critic, and philosopher, Frederick Turner enthuses:
How good to be reading a grown-up poet! No virtue-signaling in this poetry, though it's full of the harshest, most violent and liberating moral wisdom. None of the croon of fashionable free verse, but instead, complex fractured metrical forms and crazy rhymes that distort language until it squirts out its real meaning. No pandering to the niceness of the poetic audience, but prophetic bluntness that breaks our expectations and makes them gash gold vermillion.
Dana Gioia's Forward to the volume is perhaps the most definitive statement on the place of my verse in contemporary letters that has yet been published and, I think, invites those with an interest in literature but perhaps a wariness before the over-abundance and obscurity of modern poetry into conversation, study, and delight.
Click on the book cover to learn more or buy your copy.
One of the first ambitious projects I undertook, as a young poet, was a sequence entitled Mythologies from Downriver. It consisted of classical myths reset Downriver, that is, in the poorer suburbs running along the Detroit river in Michigan, south of the city; it came to the number of four short lyrics and a long narrative poem.
"Hyacinth," actually third in the sequence, was my first published poem, and appeared, after years' delay, in the final issue of the fine and much missed Edge City Review. Dated 2003 or so, I am pretty sure the number actually appeared long after that. Some years later, Chronicles published a much revised version of "Lachesis on the Party Line," a poem in which I took much pleasure as it was my first one in terza rima and, further, I grew up with a party line at our summer cottage, hard though it is to believe. That was in 2014. This last spring, Jesus, the Imagination published "Zeus Gives Birth to Dionysus," the first of the sequence and one nicely set in a men's restroom in a bar in Taylor, Michigan.
Just this week, Measure published "Silenus and His Gang." This is my one poem in the accentual alliterative form. This is also Measure's penultimate print issue, and so evidently these poems are destined to come along at the end of many good things.
The last of the poems, a long narrative called "Memories of Apollo," contains some of my best early stanzas, but I have never tried to publish it. Someday, perhaps, once I can be sure the whole thing meets my present standard. My apprenticeship in poetry was a long one and it took a long time for me to see what works and what does not to constitute a tight and satisfactory meter in the age after free verse.
Because Measure is soon to convert to an all digital format and is in the process of creating a digital archive of its back issues, I thought it would do no harm to include here a copy of "Silenus and His Gang." Click the image of Silenus to read a copy of those printed pages.
Think Journal's new issue is out, including my poem, "Premises." The issue was released during the Writing the Rockies conference, where I taught a three-day graduate workshop in poetic meter and rhythm, and where I also delivered a lecture, "Defining Poetry by Its Ends: Memory, Meter, Metaphor," as part of the annual critical symposium on poetry, hosted by Jan Schreiber. While "Premises" is not available for reading online, you can subscribe to Think's semiannual edition and support its efforts to renew metrical poetry in our day (click the logo at left).
If, however, waiting for an issue to arrive by post is too much to bear, then consider my latest poem in Dappled Things, "On a Palm." There is indeed an unbearable desire within us to see and to know, and to make others perceive what we have experienced. (Click the DT logo at left.)
This poem shares the same title (and comes from the same poetic sequence) with another poem that will appear this fall in The Best American Poetry 2018. I'll be reading the other "On a Palm" at the New School, in Manhattan, on September 20th. Several authors from the anthology will also be coming to Villanova this February for a regional launch, reading, and celebration. Check back here for news on that.
Next item: I'm pleased to inform you that Jerry White has made a nice film of my poem, "Autumn Road." That poem first appeared in First Things and was one of those rare verses that resonated with so many readers that I found myself receiving notes for months afterward about its timely affect. "Autumn Road" has been revised some since then, and White's filmed recording is of the version due to appear as the final poem in The Hanging God, which will be out this fall from Angelico Press. (The film is embedded at the bottom of this entry.)
The Hanging God, my second full-length collection of poems, will appear just in time for me to deliver the annual First Things poetry reading, on October 28th, in New York City. That will be the second of several major readings I'll be giving in New York, here in Pennsylvania, in Dallas, and elsewhere, during the year ahead. If you or someone you know might be interested in hosting me for a reading or lecture from Fall 2018-Spring 2019, you are welcome to click the Contact page and drop me a line. I am just working out my schedule now. Once again, check back here regularly for more information on upcoming events.
Catholic World Report has just published the latest installment on my ongoing series of studies of contemporary Catholic writers. Even those with little interest in verse will benefit from encountering the work of these two adept metrical poets whose work reflect the political rage of our time and also a sense of abiding goodness in and beyond the lip of this world. (Click the picture to read the essay.)
Timothy Murphy died just over a week ago, a poet about whom I'd written in The Weekly Standard, but also one to whom I'd promised a more substantial essay on his work, one that would define it for the age. I wanted that to happen before he passed away; the sheer bulk of his writing defied me. I have a one foot pile of his manuscripts, some of which were bound at home, some of which were published, sitting by me as I write this, and I know that there are at least three other books that I have tucked away somewhere, at least drafts of them he sent unasked. A proper tribute to this prolific, human and lovable, but uneven poet will be forthcoming.
For the moment, however, I invite you to enjoy with me the work of two younger talents with whom Murphy would have felt immediate kinship.
Front Porch Republic has just published my short essay on the life and work of Donald Hall, who passed away last week after a long and distinguished career. This was not the only loss to American poetry this week. I'll have new reviews and memoirs forthcoming. (Click the picture to read the essay.)
My poem, "Return to St. Thomas," appears in the new issue of First Things magazine. Click the picture of the eponymous church to read the poem. This is a poem, I think, best read in the context of some of my other recent poems in that magazine, and so I invite you to click the FT logo to go to the magazine's archive of my work in its pages.
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