Larry Woiwode’s straightforward narrative voice and clear prose serve the essay medium well as evidenced by his latest collection of writings, Words Made Fresh.

Woiwode, poet-laureate of North Dakota and freelance writer for publications such as The New YorkerThe Atlantic,Harper’s and The Paris Review, comfortably contains his voice to the long essay medium. Starting off strongly might be an understatement as the first essay, titled “Guns & Peace,” recollects a gruesome incident involving Woiwodeshooting an already fatally wounded deer in front of his wife and daughter.

Born from the cold gore of his opening essay is the collection’s trajectory. Despite a wide range of topics addressed, from Wendell Berry to John Updike to CNN, one will find the pieces are consistently grounded and anchored with clarity of purpose as Woiwode is to his North Dakotanidentity.

The essays do not lose their potency in the ether of high theoretical language, as it can be easy for an academic essay to do, but instead gain momentum as the work progresses, with accumulating layers of social, literary and moral fabric.

It is undeniable that the work reflects Woiwode’s religious sentiments, but nuance defines his ritual approach. The aspects of spirituality which naturally rise and fall in the course of his essays are not staid or forceful. Instead, they represent his brand of literary mysticism — an understanding rooted in a specific interpretation of sacred literature based on the idea that writing is, intrinsically, a moral act.

Woiwode’s essays would be particularly useful for students and faculty in the fields of English or theology, but they appeal to a broader audience because most of them are written in an anecdotal voice that reads like a thoughtful NPR show. Check them out if you are looking for some grounded insight from a Midwestern poet.


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