cover image The Milk Hours

The Milk Hours

John James. Milkweed, $22 (80p) ISBN 978-1-57131-508-3

Winner of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, James’s debut calls attention to the beauty in history’s myriad upheavals. His view encompasses literature, art, and philosophy, reflecting on (as well as giving meaning to) the circumstances of their making: “The dream kept urging me on to do/ what I was doing—/ to make music— since philosophy,/ in my view, is the greatest music,” the speaker confesses early in the collection. Presented as a series of linked lyric pieces, the poems in this luminous volume shift effortlessly between lexicons and registers. He writes, for instance: “History—the branch/ of knowledge dealing with past events; a continuous,/ systematic narrative of; aggregate deeds; acts, ideas, events/ that will shape the course of the future; immediate/ but significant happenings; finished, done with—‘he’s history.’ ” Oscillating between the objective language of definition and more colloquial diction, this passage exemplifies both a strength and potential weakness of the book. One of the dangers of engaging history as an artistic subject is that it can invite exposition at the expense of creating tension within the poetic line. But while phrases such as “the branch/ of knowledge dealing with past events...” might fail to stir the reader, James’s skillful craftsmanship makes this a memorable debut. [em](June) [/em]