What is it we want when we can’t stop wanting? And how do we make that hunger productive and vital rather than corrosive and destructive? These are the questions that animate Christian Wiman as he explores the relationships between art and faith, death and fame, heaven and oblivion. Above all, He Held Radical Light is a love letter to poetry, filled with moving, surprising, and sometimes funny encounters with the poets Wiman has known. Seamus Heaney opens a suddenly intimate conversation about faith; Mary Oliver puts half of a dead pigeon in her pocket; A. R. Ammons stands up in front of an audience and refuses to read. He Held Radical Light is as urgent and intense as it is lively and entertaining—a sharp sequel to Wiman’s earlier memoir, My Bright Abyss.
"The poems Wiman has chosen are almost all gorgeous, and he explicates them gorgeously . . . 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 . . . These are achievements of attention, and by gathering so many of them here Wiman trains us to look for them elsewhere. If it were only those close readings, He Held Radical Light would be a textbook; instead, 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."—The New York Times Book Review
"This moving book explores not only those torments, but also the understanding that art can provide."—Kirkus Reviews
"A sense of our own limitations and the struggle to accept them is at the heart of this beautiful, brief book, written in the face of former poetry editor and honored poet/essayist Wiman's own struggles with a rare form of cancer. Weaving an informal memoir of poets and poems and the search for something more than limitations and acceptance, Wiman has wonderful stories to tell, having been at the center of the poetry world for the last quarter century."—Library Journal
"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."—Publishers Weekly