John York's splendid new book, Naming the Constellations: New Poems, has just been published by Spring Street Editions, in collaboration with Ash Creek Press in Portland, Oregon. York's daughter Rachel painted the cover image for the chapbook, and Fred Chappell, Mark Smith-Soto, and Al Maginnes provided testimonials.
These poems by John Thomas York recall to vivid life a mode of existence that has well nigh disappeared. His pliant lyricism is born from a deep love of country things, country people, and the country itself in the widest meaning of that term. It is a country the poet says he did not return to, "for the land lives in me, the kingdom come." That's true--and what a grand kingdom it is!
York was born in Winston-Salem in 1953 and grew up on a dairy farm in Yadkin County. He was educated at Appalachian State, Wake Forest, Duke, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he earned an MFA in Creative Writing. He has also been a Mellon Fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a recipient of fellowships from the Council for Basic Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities. For over thirty years he has taught English in the public schools. In 2003 he was named Teacher of the Year by NCETA. John York and his wife, Jane McKinney York, teach at Penn-Griffin School for the Arts, in High Point, a magnet school in the Guilford County system.
His work has appeared in many regional journals, including Greensboro Review: He won that magazine's Literary Award for Poetry in 1985. He has previously published two chapbooks, Picking Out (Nebo Poetry Press, 1982) and Johnny's Cosmology (The Hummingbird Press of Winston-Salem, 1994).
Naming the Constellations is the third book published by Spring Street Editions, of Sylva, NC, in association with Ash Creek Press, of Portland, Oregon. Spring Street has also published chapbooks by Kathryn Stripling Byer and Mary Adams.
To order the chapbook, please contact City Lights Bookstore of Sylva:
Or you may order directly from the author:
John T. York, 804 Westover Terrace, Greensboro, NC 27408
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Here are three poems from John's new book.
One morning, I walked down
the ditch between young corn and shining gravel,
cool white sand
lovely to my uncalloused feet.
I shuffled toward the giant trees hanging
over the road,
walked right into a shower of music,
as strange as the melodies picked up by radio
telescopes--music from the stars.
I couldn’t see any aliens,
but I knew their hymn—how wide the sky
was my rough translation,
or maybe the visitors
were merely chirping, laughing at a dirty
blond boy: a wingless creature,
how slowly and quietly he moves.
I could tell they were the true rulers of the universe,
making radiant the worm,
the grasshopper, the morning glory--
the singers’ babel a blessing,
telling everything to grow.
My father quit the farm
one piece at a time:
Kate, the old mule, gone one day,
no word of her destination,
then the cows, thirty-five Holsteins,
sold to a man who didn’t know their names,
the tractors, the tall John Deere,
the Ford, John’s little buddy,
the wagon rolling on slick tires,
a yellow cultivator splotched by rust,
the antique seed drill,
iron-spoked wheels higher than my head,
a disk harrow, a bull-tongued plow,
the tobacco sleds waiting for summer,
the mowing machine whose teeth
chattered through the alfalfa on the hottest days
and the raking machine that churned
hay into orderly rows,
the manure spreader, orange wagon
splattered black, blades clotted thick,
the two-seated tobacco planter,
its twin trays, belts, and hoses,
the sprinklers, the muddy pump like half
a tractor, the irrigation pipes.
I would come home from school
and the landscape would be changed
in a subtle way
I refused to understand,
the pastures, too quiet, the growing
vacancy in the machinery shed.
One cold Saturday,
my father out for a long haul,
my sister helping my mother pack,
I wandered about the farm,
down to the bridge, along the creek,
the pasture fence, the red boundary flags,
up to the highest hill, where I could look
over the farm and see Mt. Nebo in the distance.
I was looking for a missing piece,
the edges invisible but sharp:
the wind passed through me, as if
I were a wood stove, left there by the road,
the door left open, the wind
lowing over a rusty pipe.
Jack must’ve climbed a corn stalk--for by the time I heard rumor
of school starting, the rows marched up the hill and the leaders
hid their tassel tops in a cloud’s belly. I would’ve laughed
at gravity and followed Jack, but then Claude Jester came
running from the tobacco barn, just as the wind blew
a wrinkled piece of tin over his head: the thunder
boomed and that was the end of summer: Mom
said, “Soon we’ll need to buy you some green
jeans and new shirts, Johnny,” and I worried
that my friends would have forgotten my
name, it had been so long since May.
That rainy afternoon, Mama let me
play with a clock she used for
teaching time. I spun the
blue minute hand around
the red hours, I dreamed
through the years, until
I had a wife and three
daughters. When the
girls were little, we
liked to go to the
and there we
into a slot that
sent the coins
circling in a big
a blur, a