The University of Wisconsin Press



Sea of Faith
John Brehm

The Brittingham Prize in Poetry
Ronald Wallace, General Editor

Winner of the 2004 Brittingham Prize in Poetry

"The poems in Sea of Faith present us with a vivid dramatic voice, one determined to engage with a world that often seems intangible and remote, and to resist a world that seems all too real and disappointing. The speaker here is both self-mocking and self-accepting, taking his concerns seriously but always distant enough from them to regard them as a small part of a larger human story, a story we recognize at once to be our own."
—Carl Dennis, Brittingham Prize judge and author of Practical Gods

In a masterful blending of lyric and narrative, Sea of Faith ranges across interior states and external worlds. From the Sierra Nevadas to New York City subways, from an imagined friendship with Lao Tzu to a meditation on Coney Island, from a comic and poignant classroom discussion of "Dover Beach" to a sexual fantasy spawned by a tedious poetry reading, John Brehm's poems explore the human predicament with tenderness, compassion, and unforgettable humor.


Do nothing and everything will be done,
that's what Lao Tzu said, who walked
around talking 2,500 years ago and

now his books practically grow on trees
they're so popular and if he were
alive today beautiful women would

rush up to him like waves lapping
at the shores of his wisdom.
That's the way it is, I guess: humbling.

But if I could just unclench my fists,
empty out my eyes, turn my mind into
a prayer flag for the wind to play with,

we could be brothers, him the older one
who's seen and not done it all and me
still unlearning, both of us slung low

in our hammocks, our hats tipped
forwards, hands folded neatly,
like bamboo huts, above our hearts.

© Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

photo of John BrehmJohn Brehm has published poems in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, Barrow Street, Prairie Schooner, and The Best American Poetry, 1999. He is author of the chapbook The Way Water Moves, published by Flume Press, and is associate editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry. He lives in Brooklyn and works as a freelance writer.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

Of Related Interest:
Blurred image of a bridge lit up at nightHelp is on the Way

John Brehm

Winner of the 2012 Four Lakes Prize in Poetry

"Reading John Brehm, it is difficult not to be charmed by his voice and glittering wit... Brehm is the poet-friend you’ve always wanted...a plain-speaking raconteur— delightfully hyperbolic, ironic, and comically self-deprecating."—Mike Wilmot, Prairie Schooner

cover of Sea of Faith has an abstract illustration in blues, greens and purple

November 2004
120 pp.  6 x 9

Book icon
Paper $14.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-20204-0
Book icon Cloth $26.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-20200-2
Shopping cart ADD TO CART


Fun, wisdom, tasty language. Sea of Faith has real subways in it as well as real rivers, mountains and dogs, scoops of heartbreak, sightings of beauty. Yes, sad or happy, the poems are alive. Sea of Faith was a complete pleasure for me to read."
—Alicia Ostriker, author of The Crack in Everything

"John Brehm writes on a knife edge. His voice would be ironic if it weren't for the sustained emotion, the opening to the unknown, the 'electric calm.' These elegant poems wear their eloquence lightly; the stakes are high. Sea of Faith is an unforgettable book."
—D. Nurkse, author of The Fall

Home | Books | Journals | Events | Textbooks | Authors | Related | Search | Order | Contact

If you have trouble accessing any page in this web site, contact our Web manager.

Updated May 25, 2012

© 2012, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System