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A Guide to the Northwest Territory gives us a world in which, for all that it may be bleak (or nearly apocalyptic), beauty has a place. A man watches a woman break a horse. The oddness and grace of Noah Webster’s language is heightened in a series of found prose poems. Attention to line and simplicity of image produce the feeling that nothing here is wasted motion.
Josh Wallaert’s poems are modest but stubborn: they quietly and surely state their piece, then step back and allow form, image, and language to work. In A Guide to the Northwest Territory, we find ourselves on familiar ground (a dictionary, an instruction manual) rendered strange. Wallaert gently turns the seemingly innocuous daily over to reveal its intricate relation to the political.
In Wallaert’s poems, geography is a subjective way of knowing a landscape; definitions from Noah Webster’s dictionary are subjective ways of telling a story. There is no false objectivity here. The poems demonstrate the necessity of compassionate involvement with one’s terrain–physical, linguistic, national, political–and of maintaining a critical relationship to it.
Advance praise for A Guide to the Northwest Territory:
From Amanda Coplin, author of The Orchardist: Wonderfully perceptive, Wallaert parses language and landscape to show how we require the physical world to understand our most complex ideas and emotions. There is no such thing as passive language, Wallaert asserts: each word is alive, rooted in our deepest biological selves.
From Nick Lantz, author of We Don’t Know We Don’t Know: Here, we learn the forgotten definitions of familiar words. Here, instructions and guides reveal more than they say. Here, we watch, amazed, as poems leap between subjects. Wallaert’s language is graceful and sublime, yes, but what sets these poems apart is his profound intuition for the startling yet unforeseen connection, the unexpected but illuminating turn.
From Joseph Reed, co-editor of Caketrain: In this aptly-named Guide, Josh Wallaert leads his reader’s way through Noah Webster’s pioneering dictionary of American English, wringing the pages for hidden pockets of poesy, fallen ashes of meaning. His carefully curated findings––juxtaposed here with his own hypnotic verse––compel us to savor every word by reawakening us to the unexpected paths each one took to get there.
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A5, approx. 14 pp. Hand-bound in an edition of 100.
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