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He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, the Faith of Art

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  310 ratings  ·  61 reviews
A moving meditation on memory, oblivion, and eternity by one of our most celebrated poets

What is it we want when we can't stop wanting? And how do we make that hunger productive and vital rather than corrosive and destructive? These are the questions that animate Christian Wiman as he explores the relationships between art and faith, death and fame, heaven and oblivion. Ab
Hardcover, 128 pages
Published September 11th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Laysee by: Winston Ong
Shelves: five-star-books
‘The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.’ - Michelangelo

Ever wondered why good poetry calls to us in the depths of our being and leaves us sometimes misty eyed and strangely warmed? I rarely read non-fiction but this past week, I was moved and inspired by an exceptionally well written book that examines the role poetry plays in our lives, in particular in relation to faith. He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, The Faith of Art is a 2018 publication by Christian
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Good, good stuff. The type of little book you could finish and start over, giving it another go. Here's a more thorough review at my blog, where I'll have more runway for lift-off.... and follow-up in the days to come (where I plan to share some of the poems Wimar shared). ...more
Billy Jepma
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Christian Wiman is one of my favorite writers. His prose––and poetry, albeit to a different degree––is both dense and smooth. He writes sentences that start, stop, redirect themselves for words, lines, or even pages at a time, and then somehow end up back where they started, but bring with them a newfound understanding that changes the way Wiman, and his reader, interprets his original thought.

For a book that's barely over a 100 pages, "He Held Radical Light" is a slow and careful read. Wiman pa
Dec 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-reads
Not sure if I am becoming less responsive to Wiman's voice, or if my current distractedness is to blame, or whether this slim meditation on POETRY and GOD (or poetry/God - without the and) differed from those I've read previously (My Bright Abyss and pre-Goodreads, Ambition and Survival), but I had to push myself to finish this. Certainly, though, my worldview hasn't changed enough that a passage like this doesn't make me pause:
I don't really believe in atheists. Nor in true believers, for that
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, clear; a quick meditation on how poets reckon with their chief obsessions of death, faith, and art. Wiman has a graceful humility and deep-seated wisdom that seem rare among many of his compatriots.
K.J. Ramsey
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished this book bathed in light. Hurtling toward home at 30,000 feet above the middle of America after two weeks of traveling speaking about my own book, I resisted the pull to productivity and settled into the sun of Wiman’s wanderings through both his career and modern American poetry.

I’ve been asking questions about the cost of creativity, like Wiman asked early in his career: “Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself in it?” Describing the limitle
Christopher Gow
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is characteristic of Wiman: intensely thoughtful, deeply insightful, and seriously poetic. It made me simultaneously want to write poetry/make art and terrified of trying. This isn't an easy book to read, as he mingles stories and poems and thoughts, and his writing makes you work to understand but is really rewarding. That being said, he's so so smart and reading his thoughts on poetry, art, creativity, and faith was amazing.

This book isn't about the relationship between faith and ar
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this one at just the right time, and it spoke soothingly to some questions and little anxieties that have been clawing around in my head recently. Still grappling with the main idea of the book—that truth can only be perceived and felt when we recognize its elusive and fleeting nature. That seems like a paradox to me, but maybe a true one, especially when it comes to art.
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wiman, a poet, uses as an epigraph a quote from Juan Jiminez:

The world does not need to come from a god
For better or worse, the world is here. But it
does need to go to to one (where is he?) and that
is why the poet exists.

In a sense, a “god”, a state of some kind of transcendence is what art, particularly poetry aspires to, and the connections between the particular and the universal is what Wiman explores. It’s a thoughtful and challenging exploration, certainly not an abstruse academic exer
Lee Kuiper
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Snarl at me if you will —or call me a philistine— but this book is a piece of candy. Allow me to explain.

Having had faith as a core part of my whole life and identity and, having been someone who reads and writes poetry (I’m not claiming it’s any good), I really appreciate books in this rare niche. Wiman thinks deeply and, like any good (great?) poet, he has a wonderful way with words. I (mostly) read the book in one sitting. I should add that I never read books in a single sitting. Granted, th
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Poets, man. I just don't quite understand them - something in me is a little tone-deaf, but I do try (and, in support of Wiman's thesis, I do sometimes find myself a feeling little tone-deaf when it comes to faith, not "hearing" the spiritual music the way some seem to, but remaining committed to trying to sing my part, all the same). Novels (the art form I engage with most obsessively) often seem haphazardly hammered together compared to the fire forged beauty of poetry, and something deep insi ...more
Luke Gorham
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
4 1/2

Tackles faith, meaning, etc etc but specifically through the lens of poetry, yet could appeal to casual fans of poetry or the poetry-averse but literate-minded due to the memoirist's contextualization of verse. Wonderfully lithe, benefiting from an off-the-cuff conversational feel rather than a fully-wrought treatise. He Held Radical Light works best as that rare and pleasantly surprising incongruity - an ontological trifle.
Jun 23, 2020 added it
I’m not sure how to review this book. I enjoyed it very much, and will be returning to it often, though I can’t put a finger on exactly why.

Reading it was like having coffee and pastries with an old friend in their favorite coffee shop (to which you’ve never been), and the only thing on your agenda for the day is catching up and eating jelly-filled donuts.

Just like coffee and donuts, I think this book is best consumed early in the morning, just as the sun is rising over the horizon.
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wiman reflects on the role of art in life as he looks back on his encounters with poets and poems over the course of his adult life. Beautifully written, as is usual with Wiman. There is much to reflect upon here.
Thomas Hagen
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
"Understand that there is a beast within you / that can drink till it is / sick, but cannot drink till it is satisfied."
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wiman's latest is one of the most elegant books I've read. His poetry is beautiful and his prose about poetry is brilliant.
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Poetry is an imposition of order (form) on a feeling or a happening which is not in my control, not something I conjured, but which intruded on me, and was gone. Nothing discernible from the outside was changed, but on the inside (my self ) was changed.
The labor of putting form and image to such a happening makes poetry.

Wiman lives in the now. He finds old 'forms' inadequate. If one forces a form, what you have is not genuinely a poem, but an exercise you are performing.

And so it is now with f
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"Poetry itself—like life, like love, like any spiritual hunger—thrives on longings that can never be fulfilled, and dies when the poet thinks they have been." (9).

This book is a series of digressions by a poet asking an existential question: "What is it we want when we can't stop wanting?"

Christian Wiman believes humans are fundamentally driven to seek safety and meaning—we must address our needs and wants. Hungry? Eat. Tired? Sleep. The basics, yes, but he speaks about a deeper longing people
Jim Coughenour
I bought this book on a whim, prompted by Casey N Cep’s fine review, and read it in a single evening, to my surprise, completely absorbed. Surprised – because I am not a Christian and am completely uninterested in appeals to faith. On the other hand, I’m susceptible to high claims for poetry, knowing that certain poems can capture and encode a reality otherwise untranslatable, which sustain, deepen and transform the silence. If I sense that someone might give me access to another such poem or po ...more
Christian Wiman’s meditation and memoir He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, the Faith of Art reads like a metaphysical mystery featuring twelve poets or so and is ever more laser-focused—as opposed to his previous attempt felicitously titled My Bright Abyss with all its fragmentary gems and brief but beautiful crystallizations—on these most “lit” poems in companionship with personal narrative moments which irradiate the language and illuminate the livelihood of having faith and art in a kin ...more
Aaron Guest
Jun 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
It’s a powerful, compact little book with wonderful, as is typical of Wiman, digressions. But for me, where I am right now, this book felt too flat. The final chapter is marvelous but what builds to this, it wasn’t enough for me to really feel the sentiment he’s reaching for— but at the same time the eponymous poem is grand. I think I lot of this has to do with where I’m at— tethered to that metaphorical hook.

I’ve returned to Wiman’s My Bright Abyss four times. There’s a sense here, in this wor
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
another essential Wiman
Nate H
Dec 01, 2018 rated it did not like it
I came looking for the sweetness of Christ in verse and got only the bitterness of mainline Christendom in epitath. They long ago decided honey was too fantastic to be real and would rather exalt images resembling mortal man, birds, animals and creeping things. There is no sense of the best of Jonathan Edwards, which is what poetry ought to be - to taste the sweetness of God, bitterness of sin, nearness of eternity. Those in love with orthodoxy will choke while chewing this book. Or they ought t ...more
pam wren
Oct 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
He's a great writer and makes poetry analysis approachable.
But too much Ammon, Charlie and Donald Hall and not enough Mary Oliver or *some* other women poets.
Lee Razer
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Reading Wiman, former editor of Poetry magazine, on poetry and faith is always a pleasure. Here he argues that poetry, or art generally, cannot be an end. The hunger that gives rise to art cannot be satisfied by it. But experiencing or creating great poetry, or art, I think he is saying, functions to quiet the incessant chatter and cacophony in one’s head (what I think Buddhism calls the “monkey mind”) forming a “spot in time” to quote Wordsworth, in which faith is present, before, inevitably, i ...more
Bob Mustin
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wiman is one those I call pie men - he’s had his hand in too many things over the span of his years to identify him with any one mental discipline – and yet he’s no DaVinci either. He never hangs around a given discipline long enough to be proficient in it. Still, he’s no superficial type. He’s a searcher, a searcher for meaning, and toward that end he bounces back and forth like a tennis ball between the arts and religion. He’s been an editor, a writer, a fan of Mary
Oliver and others, and if h
Alex Joyner
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Christian Wiman has crafted a testimony to a hunger in his exquisite new book, He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, The Faith of Art. The title comes from a poem by A.R. Ammons, whom Wiman heard at a “disastrous reading” when Wiman was “a virgin of poetry readings” and an undergrad at Washington & Lee. In that reading, Ammons labored for a scant ten minutes before stating to the audience, “You can’t possibly be enjoying this,” and returned to his seat. After some cajoling he came back to the ...more
Michael Forsyth
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wiman is one of the best writers alive today. This work is a wonderful follow up to his earlier book of prose, My Bright Abyss - a scalding, meditative series of aphorisms written while undergoing treatment for a rare form of blood cancer. Where My Bright Abyss had almost a wild urgency and necessity to it, as is natural for a man standing at the edge of life and trying to write himself towards what he believes, He Held Radical Light is the calm and considered - while still remaining sharp and u ...more
Matt Ely
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology, poetry, memoir
The goal here, it must be noted, is narrower than in My Bright Abyss. Wiman focuses on poets he has known, most of whom have died, and how their experience in poetry challenged them to engage with the balance of poetry as an act toward faith in something outside one's self, or poetry as a faith in itself. Additionally, Wiman details some of the experiences that led him into the editorship of Poetry, as well as what led him out of it.

Poetry is at its best when it shows rather then tells, so the
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Essays that weave in and through Wiman's encounters with notable poets and their poems, musings on the creative process, the role of faith, poetry as a bridge to the numinous, the unknowable, the edges of our understanding. So wow. I am sure I will read this little 118-page book again and again because it's like the Lives of the Saints through poetry. Mary Oliver with a dead pigeon in her pocket. Think about that. Seamus Heaney giving a wink at the end of a conversation so wonderful that when Wi ...more
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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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