“In poetry of highest lyric order, music is its own mind. Such a mind doubts even as it believes, listens even as it sees. That mind forms on the page: what we read, it sings; and what it sings, we see. John James is writing such poems. I want to call them synesthesiac, so attuned are they to the ways in which the wonder of one sense trespasses into the working of another. But what all here interpenetrates is more than just sensory. He knows the heart is but a synesthesia of the mind; he knows the opposite holds just as true. He shows, poem by poem, that the immediacy of life’s moment—be it the domestic world of wife and child, be it the unspooling landscape, be it the literature of the past—reveals when pressed gently upon that entrance into the penetralium where behind time’s veils all that has been continues be-ing, and the intimate and the ancient, love nervous and word relict, twine together into these poems whose power is in making no claim toward the beauty they so abundantly reveal. He does as that first singer did, Caedmon, who sang because he was told he must do so—a song of praise, of animals and life, of land and blood and time. Such work is wholly personal and completely anonymous, embedded in the very life and limb whose limits it also astonishingly resists.”

—Dan Beachy-Quick

“A brilliant offering full of loss and intimacies, Chthonic is a chapbook that begs a closer look into the strange darkness of ourselves. Stark landscapes, a piercing exactitude, and a merciful wisdom fill this book that walks ‘a tripwire of grief.’ An unflinching observer, John James writes with a patient honesty and a lyric beauty that will leave you ringing.”

—Ada Limón

Chthonic is a rending of the earth, an exploration for the sake of understanding all the unarticulated motivators that lay just beneath the surface of consciousness. James’s poems dig deep as he asks us to join him at the edge of his excavations, to see what he’s unearthed, and we can’t help but look until we see it too.”

Portland Book Review

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