Friday, September 1, 2017

Solstice to Solstice to Solstice - Allison Boyd Justus (Alternating Current Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Solstice to Solstice to Solstice.  Allison Boyd Justus.  Alternating Current Press.  Boulder, Colorado.  2017.

                                   "Light is the Magellan, the finder out,
                                   the journalist, the diurnal diarist, the
                                   tell-all.  Light works with what it has,
                                   and it does not wait."
                                                                 from Sunrise 181
                                                                        5:30 a.m.  JUNE 19

Allison Boyd Justus does something amazing with Solstice to Solstice to Solstice, she greets every sunrise as a joy and a challenge, Justus answers every dawn for a year with a poem.  As the title suggests, Justus covers the year from the December 21st solstice until the following December 21st solstice with poetry.

These short narratives are a literal and an imaginative exploration of light.  Justus is all about the small details as they are revealed by first light.  The revelations revealed by changing firmament, the darkness yielding, becomes the fuel and substance for these meditations.

Sunrise 8
6:52 a.m.  DECEMBER 28

A backdrop:

The river wound away into the dark,
                                 and the darkness
            was holy and clear, celebrated with stars,
                             streaked with Leonids.
                         I stayed out the whole night,
            all talk and no fire,
              all yearning awe and 

Past four we decided to wait for the sunrise,
             though we'd forgot
                which way was east.

We shivered, welcoming
    the faint warmth, the shimmering, and then,
            when the sky couldn't hold the sun back any more--
                         knife-stab of first ray.

Dawn shone truth from forgery:

              dissolved with dawn's mist.
But we'd waited all night for this -- light brilliant as fact.
             I let cold light pierce me:

A sunrise is a sadness singed with ecstasy.


Today's book of poetry really isn't equipped to analyze or assess the philosophical components of Justus's year long exploration but we never felt left behind by these contemplations.  The reader will recognize the view from the red rim although very few of us can claim the same familiarity with dawn.  

Today's book of poetry finds much to celebrate and much to contemplate.  Justus has an inexhaustible sense of wonder.  Sometimes that appears as joy.  Justus' need "to see the day breaking" becomes more than a ritual and almost a rite.  We benefit from the perseverance of Justus and end up looking for excuses to greet the dawn ourselves.

Sunrise 83
5:56 a.m.  MARCH 13

Hold it steady, everybody, we'll all turn to-
ward the light--We'll catch the light and
carry it all day. In the morning your skin will
tell stories; your hair will smell like campfire.
The light will come on in, even through
clouds--It may not be yellow and it may not
be warm, but as light is light, it warms you;
this is all you will need.


If you were to go back and look at the previous 603 entries on Today's book of poetry you might find that joy and optimism play a surprisingly big part in the poetry that we enjoy.  Solstice to Solstice to Solstice brings the light and that is about as optimistic as it gets.

Solstice to Solstice to Solstice doesn't read like most books of poetry, it's almost like reading hymns to the light.  But Justus is never sermonizing or sanctimonious, she is ready for awe.  Justus also meets those fog covered mornings with her eyes wide open.  She documents a year of emotional response to the rising sun calibrated by experience, warmed by hope.  Clouds and fog do nothing to diminish Justus' vision, it remains focused and illuminating.

Our morning read was interspersed with requests for specific dawns, specific dates.  It seemed that each of our staff wanted to read what Justus had to say on their birthday.  That exercise quickly catapulted/deteriorated into family birthdays, anniversaries and a plethora of other important personal events, and so on.  It made for a robust and enthusiastic run through Solstice to Solstice to Solstice but it was easy to see how each entry rolled over the room like weather.

Sunrise 142
5:41 a.m.  MAY 11

The sun is rising with a vengeance: a ven-
geance it's got to be, through all this wind, or
else a hard, even intention to rescue.

Suppose the sun is sentient: it feels the mag-
nificent force of its own gravitational pull; it
wants everything (or pulls like it does, even if
it doesn't); it knows better than we do the
hot fury of its interior and its surface.

The light shines in the darkness, and the
darkness does not comprehend it.


Allison Boyd Justus reminds us with Solstice to Solstice to Solstice of the Wayne Wang/Paul Auster film Smoke (1995).  In that movie the main character, Auggie Wren/Harvey Kietel, takes a photograph on the street outside his tobacco shop in New York every day, always at the same time and always on the same spot.  The process becomes the exercise and what it reveals, over time, is every thing.   Justus, using much of the same methodology, has revealed the same magic by greeting the dawn.  She has brought us the light, illumination, in the quietest and gentlest manner.  

Our universe is just that much brighter.

Photo credit: Red Hare Photography
Allison Boyd Justus
Photo - Red Hare Photography

Allison Boyd Justus grew up in the shadow of Ben Lomand Mountain in Warren County, Tennessee. She once spent a year watching sunrises.

“Allison Boyd Justus performs magic through visceral imagery in her mesmerizing collection, Solstice to Solstice to Solstice. She sets her sights inside and outside each morning where the brilliance resides. Get a copy.”
—Meg Tuite,
author of Bound by Blue and co-author of Bare Bulbs Swinging

“In Solstice to Solstice to Solstice, Allison Boyd Justus gives us 366 mornings of sunrises during a single solar year, 366 blank slates, 366 chances to perceive and create something new. These eye-opening poems are like mornings themselves, full of startling pleasures: ‘light brilliant as fact,’ ‘the mountain a shudder,’ ‘a murmuration of starlings rattl[ing] like a tambourine.’ Justus shows us, poem after poem, that each day is a page where anything might be written.”
—Maggie Smith,
author of The Well Speaks of Its Own PoisonLamp of the Body, and The List of Dangers

“What a daunting achievement for Allison Boyd Justus—a full year of waking mornings to shape poetic reactions for our dawning planet. The tension between what her eyes and senses make of dawn and her knowledge that earth is spinning 18.5 miles a second around a star is central to this book. Justus also knows that, at the same time, the red fringe at the edge of the universe is rushing toward somethingness, and that we are in the presence of a cosmic force beyond human comprehension. Yet she maintains a transcendental trust in the human imagination and her personal intuitive vision that grows from a deep sense of wonder. Her responses range from dawn snatches, to yawning dawn wakefulness, to complete poems and inventive personal commentary: from rushed city mornings loud with traffic and train whistles, to the sun, a rose, rising above mountains and rivers. What every entry has in common is the gift of language—witty, sensory rich, poetic, and often prayerful. For Justus each dawn brings new birth into this life, this gift.”
—Bill Brown,
author of ElementalMorning Window, and Late Winter

“Justus reminds us that observation is one of the most important parts of being alive: just noting change and presence. She forces attention to the small things, and even though the sky is the star, the speaker takes on a supporting role. By the end, it seems that both the sun and the speaker have learned something in their year: they’re back where they started, but also further along. There’s something about witnessing dawn, each day—knowing, this is new, and untouched.”
—Micah Ling,
author of Three IslandsSweetgrassSettlement, and Flashes of Life

“Gorgeous lyrical prosody and wonderful concept.”
—Tiana Clark,
author of Equilibrium and winner of Academy of American Poets and Rattle Poetry Awards

“The task of the poet is to be a watcher of the world, and Justus takes to the task with precision and joy. Like the sunrise itself, these poems are deceptive in their simplicity, both stilling and stirring in their music, and wondrous in their ability to take our breath away.”
—Marc Beaudin,
author of Vagabond Song: Neo-Haibun from the Peregrine Journals

“‘The days aren’t endless and you’ve got to build them into something,’ Allison Boyd Justus reminds us in her new collection of poems, Solstice to Solstice to Solstice. Justus does just that, transforming one year into a catalog of sunrises, a directory of documented dawns. Probing and relentlessly inquisitive, her fragmented vignettes peer through the window of the ordinary, squinting into the light. These poems are miniature yet muscular meditations on darkness, change, safety, stillness, and time.”
—Hannah Stephenson,
author of In the Kettle, the Shriek

“There may only be two solstices a year, but Allison Boyd Justus reminds us that every day gives birth to poetry. These pieces are full of vivid imagery and keen observations that prove that regardless of the sun’s position in the sky, you can always be illuminated. A perfect collection to leave at your bedside and read each morning before heading off into your day.”
—Rebecca Schumejda,
author of Waiting at the Dead End DinerFalling Forward, and Cadillac Men

“In Solstice to Solstice to Solstice, Allison Boyd Justus chronicles one year’s worth of sunrises, from one December 21st to the next, a document that is as much prayerlike supplication as it is physical phenomenon. Each morning takes shape, almost insecure about its inevitable happening: our counter-course reading from left to right orients us as Justus’ writing dispels the dark.”
—Anthony Michael Morena,
author of The Voyager Record: A Transmission

“‘Solipsism won’t do,’ writes Allison Boyd Justus in her new collection, Solstice to Solstice to Solstice, as she turns toward a consciousness that is beyond our individual experience. Just as the title’s astronomical event connects itself to the equinoxes and the seasons of the year, Justus’ poetry connects us through a shared history by observing with careful patience the passing of time and its eternal resonance. Addressing Thoreau and Dickinson, Picasso and Escher, Justus creates a world filled with moments of humor as well as artistic and philosophical inquiry into what it means to be acutely aware of our own mortality—spinning toward our own death and an unnamable power beyond ourselves. ‘The days aren’t endless and you’ve got to build them into something,’ she writes, addressing the reader, calling us to act and observe the mechanics of our earth. In Solstice to Solstice to Solstice, the speaker is always holding onto something—the light, the water, the air—and it all rises into song, one that holds us—and reminds us—that it is nice to ‘like to sit with possibilities,’ acknowledging all the beauty of where we are, as well as appreciating the unknown to where we are headed.”
—John McCarthy,
author of Ghost County

“‘The clock’s struck winter, and the marble’s at the bottom of the bowl.’ So begins Allison Boyd Justus’ journey of sunrises and salutations, simplicities and complexities, observations and meditations. If ‘Winter begins small [...] kept in a tight fist,’ this collection does anything but, layering concrete, vital images between personal insights. Justus isn’t satisfied with simply documenting a year of sunrises; she’s willing to be taught, to see within and beyond the morning into herself, her world, and its mysteries. Her language is at times straightforward (‘At dawn a reluctance’) and at times intricately woven (‘A sunrise is a sadness singed with ecstasy.’ ‘Hope is a most treasured and hammered and dangerous thing.’) These poems corner us with level reason (‘Now that the sun is well-risen, what is this ‘can’t move on’? The world will move you on.’) and bathe us in joy (‘O! and I woke to a day and a darling! And O! It is more than I expected! And O! I am too easily affected!’) They deliver morsels of science (‘In the sun, magnetic field lines twist and tangle. Sometimes they snap, and a piece of the sun hurtles outward, hits our atmospheric gong.’) just as convincingly as they dip into the precocious (‘The question of whether is only a question of when. A question of weather forever, a question of whether we’ll win.’). As the year turns day by sunlit day, Justus pulls the essential from the darkness with a measured hand, a hand ‘washed clean, lightly floured, well-practiced,’ a hand that will not give ‘what you do not actually need.’ In the end, this poet proclaims what is necessary, what is needed, with a voice bright as a new morning—‘And what do I need? To be shot through: to be shot through with light.’ Yes. Exactly. It’s what we all need. And it’s what we find in this luminous collection.”
—Sandy Coomer,
author of The Presence of Absence and Rivers Within Us

“Allison Boyd Justus’ Solstice to Solstice to Solstice explores a year’s worth of sunrises in short, poetic vignettes that range from vibrant encapsulations of dawn to enigmatic fragments in which the reader encounters ghosts and hints of what lies beyond the edges of the work. The narrator greets each day from the kitchen, over cups of coffee, and it is against this quotidian backdrop that the reader sees dawn reinvented 366 times: through image, through physics, through memory, through aphorism. In the second sunrise, Justus writes, ‘I like to sit with possibilities,’ and this work invites the reader to do the same: to rise early and see where each moment will take her. Tendrils of narrative appear from time to time, though they do not resolve into concrete story; rather, the connection between the speaker and an elusive subject appears as do snippets of dream, the fleeting feeling of last night or years ago, appropriate for the stolen, in-between nature of crepuscular hours. Though seldom does the narrator invoke other people outright, there is a collective turn where she writes we, our, and it’s impossible not to feel a part of each small, miraculous morning. Both contemplative and playful, Solstice to Solstice to Solstice keeps turning, and returning, to the light.”
—Holly M. Wendt,
recipient of Baron Fellowships for Creative Artists at the American Antiquarian Society Fellowship

“When I was younger, I read Anne Dillard all the time. I imagined I would go on to be a quirky nature writer who juxtaposed philosophical questions with whatever oddities I found in the creek. At some point, creeks became paperwork, and I turned into a person that wakes up at night worrying about course substitution forms. So it goes. Justus took the right path, and in many ways, I’m envious. Who wakes up every day and watches the sunrise? The person I’d like to be. So I got up twice and watched the sunrise. Twice in a row. Many books have changed the way I think, but none have inspired me to get up before 6 a.m., until this one. Sunsets in the southwest are colorful and dramatic, but sunrises are softer. They are the introverts of this party, and are therefore part of my tribe. What Justus finds in sunrises is a conversation between those soft-spoken lights and her own sense of wonder. The pleasure of this book is stumbling into that conversation, and listening as if you shouldn’t. It is the same thrill of overhearing people at another table speak about how they should try again, how there is still a chance, how the sun will rise again the next day and offer something unexpected.”
—Gregory Robinson,
author of All Movies Love the Moon

“In Solstice to Solstice to Solstice, Allison Boyd Justus measures each day’s dawning with the precision of a watchmaker. In an age when data geeks are the lords of everything, Justus’ plums of truth deliver: from Solstice #31: ‘Live in a light house, and frugally,’ and from #35, a question: ‘Must I force everything open?’ Begun on a Winter Solstice, the collection seems to spring out of an urge to mark the bare-bones December mornings, but the revelations come in a year of sunrises, such as in #37 (‘Light divulges dimension’), #79 (‘We’ve reached a thin place’), and #116 (‘Before and behind this fearsome young morning lie promises we made while dawning’). Her talent lies in conjuring the cache of life in 366 altogether different overtures, finding divine purpose in nature alongside the ordinary. Like Whitman before her, Allison Boyd Justus brings a way of seeing connection between self and nature, but like William Carlos Williams, all is viewed from her private vista: in her case, a window facing east.”
—Andrea Mosier,
author of Fire Eater, shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize

“‘Rise up to remember what could be forgotten, and water it,’ writes Allison Boyd Justus, and that’s exactly what she’s done for a year and a day, writing a poem at each sunrise. In these pages ‘the sun’s around here somewhere’ with the visual glory you’d expect—tangerines, sherbets, lavenders—but these poems are also a place where the ‘groggy body’ is invited to listen: to silence and stillness, to clouds and questions, to math and science, to lyric whimsy punctuated with straightforward confessions of shortcomings and pain. This poet’s world is one where the grass grows, onions first; where atoms are tiny pearls; where a heating-and-air unit hums with stories; where sunlight can be ornery; and where what’s most wanted is ‘grounds for wild hope.’ Whether you read these daily missives as poems, devotions, or instructions for paying better attention, you’re sure to find that ‘joy will come around.’”
—Kory Wells,
author of Heaven Was the Moon

“Just as Maggie Nelson captivates with her book-length litany on love for a color in Bluets, Allison Boyd Justus does the same with the 366 sunrises from Solstice to Solstice to Solstice. In descriptive passages the sunrise and dawn-seeker revolve, both in unison and in contradiction, like a longterm relationship struggling to find the original in the familiar. Here there ‘are new beginnings, mercies / new-every-morning.’ The dawn-seeker becomes intrinsically connected with the sky—in thirsty curiosity of the science ‘y=mx+b,’ and by rejoicing ‘o day, o dawning dance,’ and even with ‘what I am to do with that?’ asked in disgust. The craggy pear tree and various birdsongs remind that there is more than the sky, so much to see, and ample to remember within the meditative dialogues through the year: love, disappointment, joy, existentialism. Then, oh, there are the dawns themselves: ‘streak of the butter along the broad breadbun,’ ‘Picasso scarf stirs in the window,’ and ‘Light seeps through the clouds like blood from a fine scrape, brimming.’ Read it in total, or enjoy it in sections; Justus’ passages will enchant. The yearlong journey Solstice to Solstice to Solstice is undeniably a series of rays that reach ‘hands through thorny undergrowth’ to hold the reader tight.”
—Catherine Moore,
author of Story and Wetlands

Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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