Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet

Front Cover
Copper Canyon Press, 2007 - Literary Collections - 249 pages
21 Reviews
“Blazing high style” is how The New York Times describes the prose of Christian Wiman, the young editor who transformed Poetry, the country’s oldest literary magazine.

Ambition and Survival is a collection of stirring personal essays and critical prose on a wide range of subjects: reading Milton in Guatemala, recalling violent episodes of his youth, and traveling in Africa with his eccentric father, as well as a series of penetrating essays on writers as diverse as Thomas Hardy and Janet Lewis. The book concludes with a portrait of Wiman’s diagnosis of a rare form of incurable and lethal cancer, and how mortality reignited his religious passions.

When I was twenty years old I set out to be a poet. That sounds like I was a sort of frigate raising anchor, and in a way I guess I was, though susceptible to the lightest of winds. . . . When I read Samuel Johnson’s comment that any young man could compensate for his poor education by reading five hours a day for five years, that’s exactly what I tried to do, practically setting a timer every afternoon to let me know when the little egg of my brain was boiled. It’s a small miracle that I didn’t take to wearing a cape.


Praise for Ambition and Survival

"That calling, at once religious, ethical, and aesthetic, is one that only a genuine poet can hear—and very few poets can explain it as compellingly as Mr. Wiman does. That gift is what makes Ambition and Survival, not just one of the best books of poetry criticism in a generation, but a spiritual memoir of the first order."
New York Sun

"This weighty first prose collection should inspire wide attention, partly because of Wiman's current job, partly because of his astute insights and partly because he mixes poetry criticism with sometimes shocking memoir...The collection's greatest strength comes in general ruminations on the writing, reading and judging poetry." —Publishers Weekly

"[Wiman is] a terrific personal essayist, as this new collection illustrates, with the command and instincts of the popular memoirist ... This is a brave and bracing book." —Booklist

"Christian Wiman's poems often spoke of a void, and then they stopped. In Ambition and Survival, Poetry magazine's editor rediscovers his spirituality and his voice."—Chicago Sun-TimesChristian Wiman is the editor of Poetry magazine. His poems and essays appear regularly in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and The New York Times Book Review. He is the author of several books of poetry, including The Long Home (isbn 9781556592690) and Hard Night (isbn 9781556592201).
  

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
9
4 stars
7
3 stars
4
2 stars
0
1 star
1

Review: Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet

User Review  - Ann Michael - Goodreads

My favorite essays are the title essay and "The Idea of Order." I appreciated his insights on the values and hazards of writing both poetry and prose. Read full review

Review: Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet

User Review  - Carol - Goodreads

This is a book I will want to return to over and over. He really takes one into the writing process and the profoundly holy aspect of genuine creation. Read full review

Contents

On Being Nowhere
5
A Piece of Prose
61
On Ambition and Survival
75
Fugitive Pieces i
131
Fugitive Pieces ii
145
Thomas Hardy
169
Hart Crane
177
Janet Lewis and the Uses of Convention
222
Love Bade Me Welcome
239
Notes
247
Copyright

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2007)

Christian Wiman was born and raised in west Texas. His poetry and criticism appears widely in magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and Slate. His first book won the Nicholas Roerich Prize, and he has won the Ruth Lilly and Wallace Stegner Fellowships. He lives in Chicago, where he is the editor of Poetry magazine.

Bibliographic information