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.
The latest issue of National Review includes my new poem, "My Grandmother's Kitchen." Our lives distill into chapters, and last summer really was my "summer of tetrameter," and I've noticed that my tetrameter poems are always about mystery. Then again, most poems are.
The annual Alabama Literary Review has once again outdone itself with a superb volume comprising work by many of our finest contemporary poets, including Rhina P. Espaillat, Alfred Corn, and John Whitworth. My poem "Self-Possession" concludes its alphabetized contents. Click the cover at left to access the whole free issue, including some impressive fiction, reviews, and poems.
I am most pleased to share this announcement. Samuel Hazo's The World within the Word has just been published with a forward by the great philosopher (about whom it was written) Jacques Maritain, and with a substantial critical and historical introduction by yours truly. I read Hazo's writing on Maritain, back in my graduate student days at Notre Dame, and indeed drew on his ideas for my own work on Maritain and art and poetry. My introduction to this book -- Hazo's dissertation, published sixty years after it was written and reviewed by Maritain himself -- provides a comprehensive introduction to Maritain's role in the Catholic revival of the first half of the twentieth century.
Anyone with a yearning for the old days of Catholic literary and intellectual life -- ballasted as it was by Notre Dame's (alas lost) educational daring and (still with us) football greatness -- or with a desire to learn why it is Jacques and Raissa Maritain should have changed so many lives, will find something to please them in these pages. Beyond that, anyone curious to see how the young poet Samuel Hazo first went about the craft of poetry and carved out for himself a distinguished place in American and Catholic letters will benefit from my essay at defining Hazo's poetic and metaphysical vision.
This morning, I return to the pages of Front Porch Republic with a new essay on our "Joyless Moderns." Take a tour through Descartes and Hobbes, but also Herbert and Donne, to consider what it is we have been taught by the modern "school of disenchantment." But don't enroll yourself.
When you are ready, consider the depths of the mystery of this world given to delight our imaginations, by reading my latest poem in America magazine, "James's Book." When I give public readings, the one poem I can be reasonably sure the audience will know is my "Prayer for Livia Grace." Here is the complementary poem, written for her younger brother. Joined with "On a Box of Rainbow Sprinkles," written for her baby brother, Thomas, this poem brings me very close to having published one for each of the children. Cecilia will have to wait, accepting for the moment the one line dedication to The Fortunes of Poetry in an Age of Unmaking.
Click the chair to read "Joyless Moderns" and the lyre to read "James's Book." Click the book cover to read another recent essay of mine on joy. And, finally, if you are new to my work and like what you see, have a look at the BOOKS page of this site, by clicking on Some Permanent Things.
The online magazine Law and Liberty has just published my review essay, "Joy's Mysteries," which discusses Christian Wiman's anthology Joy: 100 Poems. Click the book cover to read.
I will be giving a number of poetry readings and lectures this coming year, some open to the general public, some not. If you are in the area, I hope you will join us. Check back here frequently, as I will be updating this calendar regularly in the coming month. Click the icons at left for more information about an event.
Richard Wilbur is a writer who rewards constant revisiting. I will have him by my side for many years to come, I pray, though his soul has left us. Click the gnomon to read my most recent essay on the significance of his achievement, as Catholic World Report publishes "The Cassocked Shadow of Richard Wilbur." You can find my previous essay, from The Weekly Standard, on Wilbur's achievement by way of a link at the beginning of this new essay.
I announced yesterday that my poem, "On a Palm," which first appeared in Presence (2017), has been selected to appear in the 2018 edition of The Best American Poetry. I am so honored to be included in this anthology, where, two decades ago, I first got my bearings on the state, the strengths, and the weaknesses of contemporary poetry. It remains a benchmark of sorts, and I am delighted that my work will have this chance to find a new, perhaps broader, audience. The volume appears this coming September.
While I was sending word of that good news to friends, the contract from my new publisher arrived. And so, I am pleased to announce, my fourth book of poems, The Hanging God, will appear this fall. I will hold off on further details until I have the contract filed safely away. I have been holding off on publishing this book for a number of reasons, including the hope of making it perfect. I guess we'll see if I succeeded at the other end of this year.
Matt Robare offers a generous, serious, but tough, review of The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition, in the University Bookman. Click the UB icon to read the whole thing.
I continue to add dates to my winter/spring lectures and readings schedule. Click the Some Permanent Things icon to learn more. And, check back frequently, as some are still in formation.
I just learned this very hour that the poet Helen Pinkerton Trimpi died peacefully yesterday, surrounding by her family. As she approached the age of ninety, she sometimes sent me photographs of herself with several generations of her family, Helen herself cradling a great-grandchild in her arms. Many people were enriched by Helen's company, scholarship, and poetry over the decades, and I look forward to reading their tributes to her remarkable personality and achievement.
For the moment, I wish merely to point toward the last -- of a good number -- of pieces I wrote on Helen's work over the last decade. We spent much of that decade in close correspondence, as I studied her poems and interviewed her about her life and work; as the years passed, as she slowed down, our conversation turned in attention more to my own work, which she scrutinized closely, helping me revise my first book of poems after it appeared, reviewing my second, and then offering insightful suggestions as Fortunes of Poetry and The Vision of the Soul moved toward publication. She read both in manuscript and, in fact, read the latter as I was still writing it. How grateful I was to have such a reader in such a friend.
I will also add how honored I was to be the publisher of Helen's last poem, "Dialogue." I helped her work on it and, unhappily, my criticisms caused her to refrain from publishing it in her Collected Poems. She only reluctantly gave it to me to publish in Modern Age, knowing that her remaining strength would not allow her to return to the poem. It was in fact a fitting crown to her achievement and drew into a few spare, blank pentameter stanzas a summary of her entire life's work in poetry, which was always to encounter God who is Being Itself, the one who causes all things such that to contemplate existence is to enter into the fundamental mystery of reality and to be confronted by Existence Itself in the face of our Redeemer. May the God of Creation and Redemption bless her and accompany her into his eternity.
A note from December 7, 2016:
The Weekly Standard has now published "It's a Battlefield," my review of A Journey of the Mind, the collected poems of Helen Pinkerton. Readers of my work will know that I have written a great deal about Pinkerton, publishing two interpretive essays on her work, a personal interview with her, and also citing her more than once in my various books and articles. She is one of the best American poets of this last century; I hope this little article will serve as a fitting last word on her small but impressive body of work. Click the picture to read the review.
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