Times Beach

John Shoptaw

Notre Dame Press

“Times Beach is, like most interesting American books, an original. It’s about a place, the watershed of the Mississippi River, and it is an ecopoetics. Best, perhaps, to think of it as a hybrid of Hart Crane, the depression photographs of Dorothea Lange, and a nineteenth-century lantern show—they called them ‘panoramas’—of the human and environmental history of our mightiest river system. It comes from a deep sense of the rhythms and dialect of a place and from a deeply literary and inventive imagination.” — Robert Hass, poet laureate of the United States (1995–1997) and author of The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems

Times Beach is brimming, teeming with life. John Shoptaw, with breathtaking expanse and lasting intricacy, somehow writes a book in which we traverse the vastness of the American landscape—its gorgeous yet misguided rivers, its achingly honest and flawed humans, its forgotten bayous and wildlife—with a hand made nimble by reverence. In this, he revivifies American poetry into an optimism that is nearly as infinite as it is pained. This, however, is the only true kind of optimism, and how good it is to have a book of poetry that restores us into that abundance.” — Katie Ford, author of Colosseum and Blood Lyrics

Winner of the Notre Dame Review Book Prize, this ambitious collection of poems evokes the cultural and environmental history of the Mississippi watershed and meditates on how its rivers are ceaselessly shaping, and shaped by, the lives around them. John Shoptaw guides us from the Mississippi’s headwaters in Lake Itasca to its delta in the Gulf of Mexico, weaving together episodes in the life of the river system—the New Madrid earthquakes, the 1927 flood, the EPA’s eradication of the dioxin-laced town of Times Beach—with his own memories of growing up in the Missouri Bootheel: picking cotton, being baptized in a drainage ditch, and working in a lumber mill. Formally renovative, the poems in Times Beach ring the changes on the big muddy place and hymn its everlasting possibilities. 

 John with pergola (792kb)
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