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Selected by Henri Cole for the 2018 Max Ritvo Poetry Prize

“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

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