John James with Henri Cole
Thursday, December 5, 2019, 7:00 p.m., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
celebrating the release of John James' new collection of poetry
The Milk Hours
published by Milkweed Editions
Winner of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, The Milk Hours is an elegant debut that searches widely to ask what it means to exist in a state of loss.
"We lived overlooking the walls overlooking the cemetery." So begins the title poem of this collection, whose recursive temporality is filled with living, grieving things, punctuated by an unseen world of roots, bodies, and concealed histories. Like a cemetery, too, The Milk Hours sets unlikely neighbors alongside each other: Hegel and Murakami, Melville and the Persian astronomer al-Sufi, enacting a transhistorical poetics even as it brims with intimacy. These are poems of frequent swerves and transformations, which never stray far from an engagement with science, geography, art, and aesthetics, nor from the dream logic that motivates their incessant investigations.
Indeed, while John James begins with the biographical—the haunting loss of a father in childhood, the exhausted hours of early fatherhood—the questions that emerge from his poetic synthesis are both timely and universal: what is it to be human in an era where nature and culture have fused? To live in a time of political and environmental upheaval, of both personal and public loss? How do we make meaning, and to whom—or what—do we turn, when such boundaries so radically collapse?
John James is the author of The Milk Hours, selected by Henri Cole as winner of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he is pursuing a PhD in English at the University of California, Berkeley.
Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, to a French mother and an American father. He has published nine collections of poetry, including Middle Earth, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer. He has received many awards for his work, including the Jackson Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, the Lenore Marshall Award, and the Medal in Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His most recent collection of poetry is Nothing to Declare. New York Review Books recently published a collection of prose title Orphic Paris. He teaches at Claremont McKenna College and lives in Boston.
About Milkweed Editions
Just as the common milkweed plant is the site of metamorphosis for monarch butterflies, Milkweed Editions seeks to be a site of metamorphosis in the literary ecosystem. We take risks on debut and experimental writers, we invest significant time and care in the editorial process, and we enable dynamic engagement between authors and readers. We operate as a nonprofit to pursue these ends without overbearing financial pressure. And yet, though profits aren't our primary focus, helping our authors succeed certainly is. Just so, since our founding in 1980, we’ve published over 350 books of literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and now have over four million copies in circulation. We believe that literature has the potential to change the way we see the world, and that bringing new voices to essential conversations is the clearest path to ensuring a vibrant, diverse, and empowered future.