In which a quote from Christian Wiman gets my dander up

art, teaching, writing

Christian Wiman is awesome. I love his poetry. He was just named a Guggenheim fellow. He took the time to hang out with my MFA alma mater. But a friend sent me the following transcription from a recent interview of his and it got my dander up:

You are filled and then you’re not. A poet is someone who has to exist between those moments. And between those moments you don’t feel like a poet. It’s been two months since I’ve written a poem and I don’t feel at all like a poet. It goes away. You’re just a person going about your life like anyone else. The gift seems not yours. It seems on loan. Whereas with prose you can do that anytime. You can crank that out.

There seem to be two sets of problematic assumptions in this quote. Regarding poetry:

-successful poems come from some source of inspiration outside the poet

-drafting, revising, rewriting—if you’re in between periods of being “filled” these things are of little use

-poets are gifted in a unique way, even from other creative writers (which raises a whole different set of questions)

Regarding prose:

-prose writers are never “filled” and don’t need to wait for those moments

-prose writers can and should feel like writers all the time

-most alarmingly, you can write successful prose anytime and just crank it out

I haven’t seen this whole interview yet, so hopefully the context clarifies things. However, I can’t imagine telling my beginning poetry students that they should wait to be filled, and if it takes a month or two past the assignment deadline, well, no problem! And I can’t imagine telling my beginning creative nonfiction students that patience and inspiration and and bravery don’t have a role in their prose since they can just crank it out.

Is the poet really such a different animal? How do you read this quote if you make a different sort of art, like music or visual art? I know there are people who will read this who have Christian’s email address. I’d dearly love to hear his thoughts. And I know, I know—I need to watch the whole interview!

UPDATE: Christian Wiman, I can’t quit you

Just when my dander was nice and up, along comes Wiman saying this to Krista Tippett:

It may be the case that God calls some people to unbelief in order for faith to take new forms.

How could I stay mad at you?

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