The poems Wiman has chosen are almost all gorgeous, and he explicates them gorgeously. He doesn’t bother with the obligatory details of biography; we learn about the poets evocatively, from whatever odd angle they crossed his path ... His strengths aren’t as a theologian but as a critic, and he is expert at identifying the exact image or lines where a poet has wrestled eternity onto the page. It’s hard to sustain a series of 'moments' like that for very long, but Wiman’s gratitude for them, and humility before them, makes this brief book strangely powerful ... the real joy is how beautifully it melds intellectual labor with humane fellowship, refusing to forget the flesh that made the words. Even the most transcendent art arrives via the transient vessels known as artists, and Wiman knows how to bring both to life on the page.
These taut, absorbing pieces weave together memories and close readings of work that has haunted or challenged him. Wiman...asks crucial questions, such as: Is artistic hunger a longing for God? Can writing be personally redemptive? What does it mean to be a believer? Wiman, who was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer several years ago, wrestles with his own mortality and ambitions as he searches for truth through literature.
While continuing the discussion of existential and religious questions he addressed in earlier books, such as My Bright Abyss, in this latest work Wiman considers some of the central problems of a life dedicated to poetry—how the work must reach out toward something beyond it, and how one must nonetheless take the work seriously as an end in itself in order to produce any writing worth a damn ... If writers are striving for something beyond what they’re literally working on, Wiman wonders what that something could be—God? Death? There’s another possibility, the yearning for a more concrete ethical engagement with other people...and it is, intriguingly, one he barely considers. The spiritually inflected reaching-outward he recommends—love for poet friends, his wife, his daughters, to whom his study door is nowadays 'always open;' the work of the oncologist who treated his cancer—never exceeds the bounds of private life.
He Held Radical Light displays the poetical prose familiar to readers of [Wiman's] My Bright Abyss: Every sentence is chiseled into stone, beautiful and lasting. Although Wiman can be casual in his formulations... his ear for the rhyme of a prose sentence, enhanced with great precision and sincerity, makes for a reading experience that is extremely rare ... In He Held Radical Light, Wiman sounds more at ease, surer of himself, as he is more generous to share his life with his readers.
Quite simply, Christian Wiman’s He Held Radical Light is a beautiful book, floating as it does on elegant, lyrical prose ... Wiman reveals that faith and art give form to feelings that are incipient, and they offer us a means 'whereby we can inhabit our fear and pains rather than they us, to help us live with our losses rather than being permanently and helplessly haunted by them.' Luminous and moving, He Held Radical Light brilliantly reveals the inextricable bonds of poetry and faith, and it serves as an evocative companion to Wiman’s 2013 memoir, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.
The chapters feel almost like prayerful contemplation, more than crafted essays. Each contains a poem by Wiman or one of the poets discussed. The author's thoughts on the poems are valuable, but even more fruitful are his memories of the poets. He shares these stories with grace and humility and leaves readers with a breathless sense of the revelatory ... A worthy companion to Wiman's wonderful My Bright Abyss, this belongs in libraries everywhere.
In this memoir, the author considers the question, 'What is it we want when we can’t stop wanting?' For Wiman, one answer is faith, but as he puts it, spiritual hunger is like poetry in that it 'thrives on longings that can never be fulfilled, and dies when the poet thinks they have been' ... This moving book explores not only those torments, but also the understanding that art can provide.
Wiman...weaves together philosophy and lush prose in an elliptical memoir about his long flirtation with the belief that he could gain immortality by writing a perfect poem. He explains this drive for the ideal through delicately theological questions, including ... Readers who allow themselves to be swept along by Wiman’s beautiful style and oblique considerations will come away with fresh strategies for unpacking faith in the contemporary world.