The Milk Hours (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. 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?
Praise for The Milk Hours:
“The poetry of the earth is intensely alive in the poems of John James. In this luminous first book, there are poems of a son and a young father. Many of the best inhabit a tormented Kentucky landscape where there is a field with horses, a house and a barn, a flooding river, a cemetery where a parent lies, and bees or flies hovering. Out of the sorrowful fragments of personal history, John James has a created a book of unusual intelligence and beauty.”—Henri Cole
“The titular poem in John James’s debut collection refers not only to the luminous hour of infant nurture, although that is its occasion, but to the violent loss of his father, an event distant enough that ‘snowmelt smoothes the stone cuts of his name.’ James’s searing attention is upon the fleeting, the untethered, upon fecundity and decay, the cosmic and the molecular. These are also the poems of a young father’s daily life in the wane of empire, who wishes ‘to remember things purely, to see them / As they are,’ and who recognizes in what he sees our peril. ‘The end,’ he writes, ‘we’re moving toward it.’ James is, then, a poet of our precarious moment, and The Milk Hours is his gift to us.”—Carolyn Forché
“I can’t remember a collection of poems with a greater variety of trees in it than The Milk Hours, or one that has left me so conscious of the centrality of the tree to human history, or for that matter, to humanness itself—from the microscopic branches of our nerve endings to the vast tentacular dust lanes of the galaxy we live in. Impeccably constructed, profoundly felt, and every bit as gorgeous as it is full of powerful observation (a candlewick’s “braided cotton converting to amber,” dead stars that throw “cold light through the black matter / of millennia”), The Milk Hours is a startlingly mature, exhilarating debut, and one whose urgent evocation of the past and confident reaching for what lies ahead ensure it a prominent place in our present.”—Timothy Donnelly
“‘Home is a question,’ writes John James in The Milk Hours, a remarkable debut in which sorrow leads to an astonishing intimacy with the world. The speaker is pensive but inquisitive, bewildered by the loss of a father and renewed by love and parenthood. Art, science, and travel, like mortality, become tethers to the elegant and chaotic truths of our world. The Milk Hours is a moving and urgently crafted testament to resilience and to beauty.”—Eduardo C. Corral
John James is the author of The Milk Hours, selected by Henri Cole for the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize (Milkweed, 2019). He is also the author of Chthonic, winner of the 2014 CutBank Chapbook Award. His poems appear in Boston Review, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, Poetry Northwest, Best American Poetry 2017, and elsewhere. A digital collagist, his image-text experiments appear in Quarterly West, The Adroit Journal, and LIT.
Jos Charles is author of feeld, a Pulitzer-finalist and winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series, selected by Fady Joudah (Milkweed Editions) and Safe Space (Ahsahta Press). Charles has poetry published with POETRY, Poem-a-Day, PEN, Washington Square Review, Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. In 2016 she received the Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship through the Poetry Foundation. Jos Charles has an MFA from the University of Arizona. She is a PhD student at UC Irvine and currently resides in Long Beach, CA.
Jordan Nakamura is a poet and MFA candidate at Antioch University LA. He was born and raised in Hawaii and lives in Los Angeles. His writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Zocalo Public Square, The Curator, Lunch Ticket, and Tupelo Quarterly.