After I read a reference to Christian Wiman's poetry and read two poems online, I checked to see what books of his were in our library network. I found a copy of Ambition and Survival on the third floor of the Concord Library.
Up three flights of stairs, turn left and enter the first aisle. At the end of the row, a massive fan created, if not a cool space at least a wind tunnel. 808.1 Wiman was shelved three feet away from this five-foot spinning dervish. My hair, plastered to my head by the heat and humdity, quickly dried and blew in every direction.
Before descending to the second floor where the air conditioning operated without any assistance, I knew that Wiman was appointed the editor of Poetry magazine in 2003. In the last paragraph of the preface I read: "...this book begins with an essay on homelessness and unbelief and ends with an essay on rootedness and faith..."
Years ago a poet, and professor of Literature, lived in my neighborhood. I didn't really know him, but I had read some of his published poetry and found myself drawn to his accessible writing—especially the deeply personal poems of loss and faith. In time he moved to another university.
Years passed and a friend asked me if I wanted to drive to Hope College in Holland, Michigan to attend a weeklong summer poetry workshop given by this poet. This wasn't one of those huge conferences replete with readings and many well-known personalities. No advertisements appeared in national magazines. My friend heard of the workshop because she received mailings from Hope College.
Everyone else, the other twelve participants, drove to the workshop—from home. We drove from the motel.
When asked where to find good contemporary poetry, Professor Coursen said, Poetry magazine.
I subscribed to Poetry for several years—long before Wiman became the editor.
Wiman spoke of Rootedness.
Some people stay put, living steps from where they were born, working close to home. They remember how things looked decades before—they retell the story of when the old high school's basement flooded and the year the high school won their first and only state football tournament.
I left my Bronx neighborhood just before dusk changed the streets into a place of elongated shadows. Uprooted from cement, apartment buildings separated by narrow alleys, occasional trees surviving in squares of dirt surrounded by sidewalks, fire escapes, and fans instead of air conditioners, I carry the neighborhood around like a peddler with his bag of wares. I can't strip away the games played on cement sidewalks or a fear of alleys. Large trees with trunks that defy me to span their girth awe me.
A friend of mine who grew up in Chicago and lived for years in Montana said that every once in awhile he missed the smell of cement, of a city after it rained. And he'd return to Chicago and spend days walking on that hard surface that bends to no one. By then he missed the mountains and the expanse and went back home.
Each place I've lived rubs off on me even those places I don't ever want to visit again. Once I lived in a bland community in New Jersey, just a bridge ride to Manhattan. Nothing stood out in that bedroom community save that it strived to be a place close to the city. When I moved to Connecticut I took the commuter rail to work with people who knew how to fold the New York Times—a skill I learned from a social studies teacher. I wonder if that is still taught.
What can't be taught is imagination. It can be nurtured and every place we live and visit enhances our imagination.
"Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God’s means of manifesting himself to us."