The Wind Speaks: Poems (Paperback)
Winner of the 2020 Hopper Poetry Prize What would you get if a Taoist monk sat down with Wendell Berry, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Sappho, and G.M. Hopkins to write sonnets that banish conventions of form, structure, & meter, while creating new parameters within which to start, stop, surge, yield, twist, turn, open, close. These poems beg to be spoken aloud; each finds a singular cadence, tension, perspective, to bring to the natural world fresh and sometimes unusual voices (a poem in the voice of a praying mantis? …vulture? …whippoorwill?) Bit by bit, they work from the observed and/or fantasized, to get to the internal, the personal, to a celebratory grief.
Elsa Johnson has spent most of her life living among and appreciating the green verdant hills and valleys, ledges, streams, and bogs of northeastern Ohio (last of the Appalachian foothills—a place that unequivocally wants to be a forest). She is a poet, writer, landscape designer, artist, and hands-on environmental sustainability advocate, invasive species warrior, and a passionate volunteer in nearby Forest Hill Park. She lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio and writes for and co-edits Gardenopolis Cleveland, a blog about everything green in Cleveland.
“For all the word-islands and phrasal-isthmuses Elsa Johnson charts in The Wind Speaks, she’s a poet who sees nothing of the world in isolation. Her work is not elliptical; it is attentively, vigorously coalescent. Dylan Thomas reckoned that the best craftsmanship ‘always leaves holes or gaps…so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in.’ What creeps, crawls, flashes, and thunders in and through these poems is something like Bergson’s élan vital, or the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, or the slow-motion rush of Hopkins’ buckling velocity. It’s luminous and fateful and shadowy as the pull of lunar phases, the ‘tidal blood’ of women. ‘It pauses me' is the opening line of one poem; at this memorable threshold, Johnson’s aesthetic and ethical commitments come together with shining clarity. Biotic conditions are met with focused, contagious bravery. Nothing is given presence in these poems without revealing deep relationship to something else. A reader finds space and time to know each tether, segue, filament, and ‘taking down.’ When Johnson tells us in her opening poem she will speak ‘with other voices,’ the all-important word is ‘with.' It is not the ‘with’ of instrumentalization; it is the ‘with’ of loving consultation. There is love abundant in these poems, and dazzling skills to match love’s very steepest demands.“ —Sarah Gridley