Well Then There Now

Accretion, articulation, exploration, transformation, naming, sentiment, private and public property – these are just a few of Juliana Spahr’s interests. In this, her third collection of poetry, we find her performing her characteristic magic, turning these theoretical concerns into a poetic odyssey.

From her first poem, written in Honolulu, Hawaii, to the last, written in Berkeley, California, about her childhood in Appalachia, Spahr takes us on a wild patchwork journey backwards and forwards in time and space, tracking change – in ecology, society, economies, herself. Through a collage of “found language,” a deep curiosity about place, and a restless intelligence, Spahr demonstrates the vibrant possibilities of an investigatory poetics. This verse is more inclusive than exclusive; consistently Spahr includes grape varietals, the shrinking of public beachfront in Hawaii, endangered plant, fish, and wildlife species, the melting of the polar ice caps, and comparative poverty rates in her eclectic repertoire. She also knows how to sing – in the oldest tradition of poetry – of loss, and her lament for nature is the most keen.

We come into the world.
We come into the world and there it is.
The sun is there.
The brown of the river leading to the blue and the brown
of the ocean is there.
Salmon and eels are there moving between the brown
and the brown and the blue.
The green of the land is there.
Elders and youngers are there.
We come into the world and we are there.
And we begin to breathe.
We come into the world and there it is.
We come into the world without and we breathe it in.
We come into the world and begin to move between the
brown and the blue and the green of it.
From “Gentle Now, Don’t Add to Heartache”

Spahr’s fifth book of imaginative writing (both poems and prose) should be a blockbuster, a lasting disturbance; a work of crisp wit, bizarre conjunctions and ultimately enduring moral authority; it is also the best, and perhaps the most widely accessible, thing that Spahr has done.
Publishers Weekly

Juliana Spahr taught at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, from 1997 to 2003. Her autobiographical novel The Transformation (2007) remembers how she and her closest friends became excited about Hawaiian ethnic nationalism, despite its efforts to exclude them, because it held some “possibility of escape from large systemic limitations. They too were trying to escape from large systems, from limitations on relation…. And while they had never indulged in the misunderstanding that art and music and literature could be independent of politics, [their] goosebumps were a reminder that they had a lot to learn.” In Well Then There Now Spahr shows what she learned. She is now a professor at Mills College in Oakland, California, but most of her new book dwells on her time in Hawaii, and it is by far the most detailed and satisfying of her four collections of poems. Five of its eight works concern the islands; all eight speak to the mixed emotions, or new emotions, that Spahr’s insistent attention to large systems—money, language, climate, geography—recommends.
The Nation

Her poems seem particularly vital at the moment not just for the pleasure inherent in their forms of language, but also for the challenge posed by their focus on community. Spahr tests and rejects any separation between intimate passion and general policy. In her poems, love does not resist the world beyond; love lets it in.
Los Angeles Review of Books

Across mountains and oceans, Juliana Spahr spins her original upbringing into a fine assortment of poetry.
The Midwest Book Review

spahr_juliana

Born in Chillicothe, Ohio, Juliana Spahr earned a BA in languages and literature from Bard College and a PhD in English from SUNY Buffalo. Spahr’s interests revolve around questions of transformation, language, and ecology. Concerned with politics without being overtly political, Spahr’s work crosses a variety of American landscapes, from the disappearing beaches of Hawaii to the small town of her Appalachian childhood. Following the critical theories mapped out in her book of criticism,Everybody’s Autonomy: Connective Reading and Collective Identity (2001), her own poems have focused on reading as a “communal, democratic, and open process.”

In addition to her volume of criticism, Spahr has published eight books of poetry:Nuclear (1994); Response (1996), which won a National Poetry Series Award;Spiderwasp or Literary Criticism (1998); Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You (2001); Things of Each Possible Relation Hashing Against One Another (2003); This Connection of Everyone with Lungs (2005); The Transformation (2007); and Well Then There Now (2011).

Spahr has also edited several volumes of essays and poetry, including Writing from the New Coast: Technique (1993); A Poetics of Criticism (1994); American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (2002); and Poetry and Pedagogy: the Challenge of the Contemporary (2006). Spahr founded the literary journal Chain and co-edited it from 1993 to 2003 with poet Jena Osman. Chain has since morphed into a small press, which Spahr and Osman co-direct.

Spahr won the 2009 O.B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize. The prize, presented by the Folger Shakespeare Library, goes to US poets “whose art and teaching demonstrate great imagination and daring.” Spahr has taught at Siena College and at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is currently an associate professor of English at Mills College.