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By Christian Wiman

“Blazing excessive kind” is how The long island Times describes the prose of Christian Wiman, the younger editor who remodeled Poetry, the country’s oldest literary magazine.
Ambition and Survival is a suite of stirring own essays and demanding prose on a variety of topics: examining Milton in Guatemala, recalling violent episodes of his formative years, and touring in Africa along with his eccentric father, in addition to a chain of penetrating essays on writers as various as Thomas Hardy and Janet Lewis. The booklet concludes with a portrait of Wiman’s prognosis of a unprecedented kind of incurable and deadly melanoma, and the way mortality reignited his spiritual passions.

When i used to be two decades previous I got down to be a poet. That feels like i used to be a type of frigate elevating anchor, and in a manner i assume i used to be, although liable to the lightest of winds. . . . while I learn Samuel Johnson’s remark that any younger guy may possibly make amends for his terrible schooling through interpreting 5 hours an afternoon for 5 years, that’s precisely what i attempted to do, virtually environment a timer each afternoon to allow me understand whilst the little egg of my mind used to be boiled. It’s a small miracle that I didn’t take to donning a cape.

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I knew a top executive of Citibank’s European operations. It was a tennis connection. Among a certain social set, tennis opens a lot more doors than intelligence. He offered me the job as he was showing me around Hyde Park Corner, where he and his family lived when they weren’t in New York or Switzerland. I was twenty-one, living in Oxford (though not, as he thought, actually attending Oxford), obsessed with poetry. That’s what I told him, the poetry part, that I had no time for anything else. He stopped in the middle of the street and stared at me, trying to decide if I was serious.

I’d merely left my car there for a few months while I was in San Francisco. I have lived in Philadelphia, though. By “lived” I mean I remember the streetcar clattering up Germantown Avenue, and the fungal smell of the back rooms of William Allen’s bookstore on Walnut, and the three-foot snowfall that buried my car just a few days before I packed it up and “moved” to Austin. I’m thirty-six. Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, as Dante says, in the middle of my life’s journey. This assumes my life span conforms more nearly to the country’s average than to my family’s, the latter being a considerably sharper slope on the downward side.

What I have come to realize, though, is that prose is absolutely integral to my life in poetry, and not simply in an intellectual sense of working out ideas or staking positions. It has helped me to stay alive to all the buried impulses and impressions out of which poems are made. Which is to say: it has helped me to stay alive. 2006 AMBITION AND SURVIVAL: BECOMING A POET I On Being Nowhere Last month I moved to Chicago. By “moved” I mean I drove here one day from Philadelphia. Not that I was living in Philadelphia.

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