[06/13/23] Jackson, Holbert: Winter Stranger
Milkweed Editions, hardcover
Publication Date: June 13, 2023
Publisher Marketing: Winner of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, Jackson Holbert's Winter Stranger is a solemn record of addiction and the divided affections we hold for the landscapes that shape us.
In the cold, seminal countryside of eastern Washington, a boy puts a bullet through his skull in a high school parking lot. An uncle crushes oxycodone into "a thousand red granules." Hawks wheel above a dark, indifferent river. "I left that town / forever," Holbert writes, but its bruises appear everywhere, in dreams of violent men and small stars, the ghosts of friends and pills. These poems incite a complex emotional discourse on what it means to leave--if it's ever actually possible, or if our roots only grow longer to accommodate the distance.
Punctuated by recollections of loved ones consumed by their addictions, Winter Stranger also questions the capricious nature of memory, and poetry's power to tame it. "I can make it all sound so beautiful. / You'll barely notice that underneath / this poem there is a body / decaying into the American ground." Meanwhile, the precious realities vanish--"your hair, your ears, your hands."--leaving behind "the fucked up / trees," the "long, cold river." In verse both bleak and wishful, Holbert strikes a fine balance between his poetic sensibilities and the endemic cynicism of modern life.
"It is clear now that there are no ends," Holbert writes, "Just winters." Though his poems bloom from hills heavy with springtime snow, his voice cuts through the cold, rich with dearly familiar longings: to not be alone, to honor our origins, to survive them.