Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24, 192 pp.
Modern poetry, like all modern intellectual endeavors, seems to be primarily an arena of religious disbelief, its practitioners too educated, too sophisticated, and too modern either to seek or to offer meaning in the faith that sustains much of the world. Christian Wiman shared this modern intellectual disdain when he became the editor of Poetry, the foremost magazine of modern poetry in America. Wiman’s evangelical Baptist upbringing in rural Texas had long been left behind—or so he thought, until his diagnosis with a rare form of cancer in 2005, on his thirty-ninth birthday. In the ensuing life crisis he recognized not only his long dormant but never abandoned faith, but the religiousness of poetry, even seemingly God-absent modern poetry. In his new book, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, Wiman reflects on faith, death, poetry, and God.
My Bright Abyss began as an essay in the American Scholar in 2007. That journal is not exactly rife with narratives of religious belief, yet Wiman writes that his essay generated a large response, revealing an educated, intellectual, modern readership less hostile to religious belief, even Christian belief, than it so often seems. The importance of My Bright Abyss lies partly in this affirmation, Wiman’s discovery that one can be both thoroughly...