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Once in the West: Poems

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  358 ratings  ·  62 reviews
One of The New York Times' 10 Favorite Poetry Books of 2014

National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

Winner of the 2015 Philosophical Society of Texas Award of Merit in Poetry

A searing new collection from one of our country's most important poets

Memories mercies
mostly aren't

but there were
I swear
veined with grace

—from "Memory's Mercies"

Once in the West, Christian Wima
Hardcover, 128 pages
Published September 9th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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May 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
It's Wednesday, and I don't tend to do Goodreads poetry reviews on Wednesday. (At least not well.) My gut reaction is that I'm rounding up to 4 stars. I think I liked his previous collection better, but this one seems more personal, more intimate, more haunted since you are intensely aware, throughout, of Wiman's incurable cancer. My main complaint was there were too many long, skinny poems that often seemed to lack the charged language necessary for long, skinny poems. That said, there were alm ...more
J.A.A. Purves
Sep 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
I don't know if it is the way that Wiman ordered them, or if his poems just gradually awakened my sensibilities for the different layers of meaning that he has placed in them, but these poems seemed to grow more and more powerful the further along in the book that I read them.

"Prayer," "Calculus," "Keynote" and "Music Maybe" are all early favorites. Then "Black Diamond" and "We Lived" hit home deeper than I expected them too. But things only get better from there. The language of "Believing Gree
Rachel Edney
Jun 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I’m speechless
Oct 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, poetry
Such an "ecstatic ruckus." My favorite book of Wiman's so far.

The end of the final poem--

. . .once in the Shedd aquarium in Chicago
I floated a moment

with my love and the two new lives
borne from us
who loved best
the eensy
unfish. . .

For me for a long time
not the minnows mattered

but the pattern after: miraculous
I didn't think

to think:
all those mite-eyes and animate instants

answering at once to my need
and to nothing

as if my very nerves worked
in finally a saving sense

Something in us
Aug 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
While the beginning of the book (maybe the first dozen poems or so) had me worried that "Every Riven Thing" was an unusual poetic achievement for Wiman, the work very quickly returned to his powerful and intriguing command of language and form. There are several standouts, but it felt as though each poem built on the energy of those before it, culminating in the third section of the book, More Like The Stars, with poems that are the most challenging and most distinct in the volume. Wiman's exper ...more
David Haller
May 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Structurally interesting? Is that a compliment?

Many years ago, I had this idea that it could be interesting to compose a piece of writing based on the flow of sound rather than flow of meaning - and that's kind of what Wiman does here with his bridging of word boundaries. Now I know that, while a cool idea, it's not particularly fun to read.

More concisely, Wiman's poetry "babbles".

I'm not going to say his work isn't shelf-worthy - indeed, it's best enjoyed picking it up and reading a selection f
Zack Clemmons
Nov 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
First, I'm very grateful for the academic calendar, which remains the sanest, most humane work-leisure balance of any profession I know of, and which provided ample time for an end-of-year book cramming.

Second, this collection slays, in 2017 parlance. It's like taking that sublime sequence of West Texas faces and Bardem's priest's ministry from Malick's To The Wonder and diving into it for a book-length treatment. Language cut to the quick, images that linger (the sparks of the El, the repeated
Nov 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
"Christ's ever unhearable/and thus always too bearable/scream."

Five stars because: Wiman. So good. So fresh and unmistakable. His delight in neologisms and reckoning with death and faith will always leave me in raptures. I think I liked this less than "Every Riven Thing," perhaps because I do not have any knowledge of or affection for Texas (or the idea of Texas), but it's excellent all the same. Recommended.
Jul 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Six stars. Seven. A poet is brought to the brink of death by a ferocious cancer. He lives through it and chronicles, in verse and stanzas, not just the pain, but a love that he found worth living far. This book of poems is life.
Christina “6 word reviewer” Lake
Reaches into void left by Dickinson!
Conor Hilton
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I don't read much contemporary poetry, but if this is any indication of the beauty that is out there I definitely should start. Wiman's poems are evocative and emotional and spiritual and sometimes I can't quite place my finger on why, but I feel something powerful. There's at moments a welding of the crass and vulgar with the sacred that might strike some as insensitive (or blasphemous), but that signaled a grounded, complex spirituality to me. There's a lot here to dig into more fully and I'm ...more
Sam Sched
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Top three faves:
Believing Green
Into the Instant’s Bliss

runner ups
after a storm
Self portrait, with a preacher, pain and snow
Little killing ditty
Loves Last
Memory’s mercies
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I might have a new favorite living poet.
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I love Wiman's poetry so much. ...more
Jun 28, 2020 added it
How to rate this slim volume of mostly two-line stanzas strung together? Maybe with two stars...certainly not three, because that would be to say I liked these poems. I didn't. But once I began, I couldn't quit drinking the words down to see how they would taste. They tasted like a bitter Hopkins, if he had lived in modern America. They tasted like loss, hard edges, deep blackness, and wells of tears. Not things I normally mind the taste of, but these were laced with acridness unslaked. There wa ...more
Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett
Sep 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wiman's new collection is absolutely fantastic. Between this set of poems, Every Riven Thing, and My Bright Abyss, his essay about modern spirituality, Wiman has quickly become one of my favorite writers and thinkers.

I've read somewhere that the greatest compliment an artist can give another is to say "I wish I'd written that." Such a wish is certainly true of so many of Wiman's poems in this book. The hallmarks of Wiman's style in these poems is his play with word sound in the form of rhyme and
Apr 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: musicmaybe
Read it aloud.

"When heaven fears its secrets will be told
it tells them to the least and the lost of us:"


"stabdazzling darkness,


"Here, have a verse for your wife's death.
Here, have a death for your life's curse.

I tell you some Sundays even the children's sermon
--maybe especially this--sharks your gut

like a bite of tin some beer-guzzling goat
either drunkenly or mistakenly decides to sample.

I know what you're thinking. Christ's in this.
He'll get to it, the old cunner, somewhere som
Oct 18, 2015 rated it liked it
I don't think I can review this after just one reading. It's still ringing in my ears... But I'll say this: Where it is brilliant, it is jaw-droppingly so. It begs to be read aloud and I'd like to make a list of all the awesome blended words he creates in this collection. Just fantastic stuff. But then there were poems that... were too mysterious and modern and did the kinds of things that people hate poetry for doing. I felt a little left in the dust on some poems. But that is likely my own fau ...more
Beatrice Drury
May 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
Not long ago I reviewed a book of poetry and told how I liked the subject matter but bemoaned the fact that the poetry had no rhythm and was difficult to read.

This book of poetry reversed that opinion. This book was a joy to read because there was beautiful rhythm and the words rolled off the tongue with pleasure. However..... I found the ideas the author wanted to convey by and large incomprehensible. Yes I did understand and enjoy a few poems but the majority did not mean anything to me.
Jonathan Hiskes
May 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Like Wiman's recent essays, these poems are dense, rich, and deserving of more attention than I can muster most nights. They stare at mortality and despair like spidering cracks in the windshield.

One of my favorites, "Even the Demon," begins, "It takes a real cow / to bite beyond / the prickly pear's / sharp spokes." I like that. Strange fruit encased in sharp spokes. It takes a real cow.
Sep 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, poetry
Wiman is n essayist and poet of the highest order. I can remember clearly his talk at Christ Episcopal in Charlottesville last year and can see so much of his new language of faith in this collection. A wonderful way to spend an hour, and then start again.
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful and sad. One of my favorite writers.
Jan 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, books-of-2016
I was a little bit disappointed, after having read Every Riven Thing, which I really enjoyed, this one is just not quite as striking.
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This year, 2018, I've intentionally tried to read more poetry and, of the poetry collections I've read this year, Christian Wiman's Once in the West has been one of my favorite. Wiman's poetry that dealt specifically with spirituality were, in my opinion, the best in the collection, he has a rawness in his voice that is refreshing because it's not an angry bitter ranting sort of rawness but, rather one that is honest but, maintains grace. Into the Instant's Bliss, The Preacher Addresses the Semi ...more
Paul Scott
Aug 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
HAVING ENJOYED WIMAN'S anthology Joy, I felt inspired to catch up on his own poetry. This is not his most recent collection, as he published one last year, but rather the successor to Every Riven Thing.

Once again we get dollops of Hopkins in the sound of the poems ("big-boned Joe Sloane shrivelcrippled / tight as tumbleweed") and in their sense (wonder streaked with anguish), but I suspect the crucial influence here is Dante. Once in the West strikes me as a miniature Divina Commedia.

Part One,
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
"Memories mercies
mostly aren't

but there were
I swear
veined with grace"

"I said Lord, Lord
in the speechless way of things
that bear years, and hard weather, and witness."

These poems have and an edge and a cynicism to them that Every Riven Thing didn't. That said, he has such command of every word and line and idea and it tends to sit with you. This isn't my favorite of his, and I wouldn't recommend it to someone reading poetry for the first time, as it can be dense at times, but it was moving an
Steven Peck
Oct 19, 2017 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this more than I did. Because I love Wiman's prose unabashedly, I expect the same experience from his poetry. I found the poems meaningful and well done, but didn't connect with them. I found the the ideas . . . not plumbed in the depth I was looking for. Perhaps, I need to try more of his work to first develop a sense of what he's doing, then come back and look at these again. Because I'm a fan I suspect that 'its me, not you' and want to try these again sometime. ...more
Aug 23, 2020 rated it liked it
I wasn't too plussed with the content of these poems. His ever-changing tack toward individual and organized religion seemed a little cynical at times, and at other times it seemed too overly pious or devoted. It just didn't jive with my soul. Oh, well. To each his own. What I did enjoy was the word play--the sounds and the structure--it was musical. ...more
Brian Kohl
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This collection of poems is a searing theodicy ("seeking to justify the ways of God to man"), and Wiman so intimately understands the problem of pain that faith seems small in comparison. Tough to read; worthwhile. ...more
Brian Thatcher
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read his essays on faith. It was fantastic. His poetry is much the same. Knowing some of his story helps crack into the meaning of a lot of his poetry. I like he he used different styles. Reading it makes life more beautiful and bitter.
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Christian Wiman is an American poet and editor born in 1966 and raised in West Texas. He graduated from Washington and Lee University and has taught at Northwestern University, Stanford University, Lynchburg College in Virginia, and the Prague School of Economics. In 2003 he became editor of the oldest American magazine of verse, Poetry.

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