Earlier this month, I published a profile of the poet Christian Wiman, who is coming to teach at Yale Divinity School in the fall (disclosure: I will also be teaching there in the fall, an arrangement that did not happen until after I pitched my story about him — but also, it’s an article for an alumni magazine, so no surprise it’s an in-house article). The first paragraph reads thus:
The poet and editor Christian Wiman, who this fall joins the faculty of the Yale Divinity School and its affiliated Institute of Sacred Music, is a surprising hire. To begin, he is a poet who wants to teach at a divinity school. Although some of the greatest poets in English, like Milton and Donne, have been Christians, the relationship between poetics and piety—so obvious from biblical times through the Victorian era—now seems sundered; poets are a very secular bunch, and Wiman is that rare Christian writing good poetry.
Now come a couple Twitter followers to attack me, as in:
@markopp1 But what you actually wrote was "that rare Christian writing good poetry." If you really believe that, you don't read much poetry.— John Wilson (@jwilson1812) May 24, 2013
This strikes me as very odd. It’s totally clear from what I wrote that I wasn’t saying Christians were any worse at writing poetry than Jews or Muslims — rather, I was making the case that most top poets are secular. This is obviously true. When I have asked Christian poets, including Joseph Bottum and Christian Wiman himself, if there are Christians writing good poetry today, they can’t come up with many names. The same is true when I try to find practicing Jews (as opposed to ethnic Jews) who write good poetry. Slim pickings. Obviously, there are many ancestrally Christian — WASP, say, or ethnic Catholic — poets working, but out of respect for believing Christians that’s not whom I am referring to when I say "Christian."
Anyway, for some reason, normally civil people decided to attack me in a rather crude way for what I wrote; in return, I posed the question, on Twitter, if people could name for me some Christian poets writing good poetry. I have absolutely nothing at stake in arguing that they don’t exist; that’s just my observation. It probably has a lot to do with poetry’s move into the academy and MFA programs, very secular places. But it seems to me obviously true, and I think I stated it in an inoffensive way.