Christian Wiman (Photo: New York Encounter)

A consciousness awake to reality

The poet Christian Wiman opened the New York Encounter highlighting this year’s theme. The following morning we sat down for a conversation with him.
Hannah Keegan

“It's been a long time since the beat of my heart was a friend.” Following a performance of Home From Home by Roo Panes, poet Christian Wiman opened the 2024 New York Encounter with this lyric and asked, “How do we befriend the beating of our hearts if we can’t even hear it?”

I first met Wiman last December through a New Yorker article. The title compelled me to click: “How the Poet Christian Wiman Keeps His Faith.” I learned that Wiman has lived an exceptionally intense life. From a childhood history of “aggression and dysfunction” as characterized by the New Yorker article, Wiman studied English and then taught before becoming editor of Poetry magazine in 2003. Shortly after getting married, Wiman was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma. These dramatic life instances made up the flesh of his encounter with Christ and the flowering of a life-long experience of (sometimes unrecognized) faith. I began to read his most recent book, Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair, and discovered that what makes him extraordinary as a poet and as a man are not the extraordinary circumstances of his life, but his poverty in the midst of these circumstances. His capacity to receive and to respond to what he has received – even the brokenness and wretchedness and bleakness of it all – is striking. Wiman is a witness to what blossoms in the encounter with the Word made flesh.

“You can’t hear the word of God until you’ve heard the Word,” said Wiman in the NYE opening – and this Word is manifest in the dailiness of life, the rustling of leaves, in the embrace of a friend, or, as you’ll read in the conversation I had with him, in a small moth [...]

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