John Holbrook
A Clear Blue Sky
in Royal Oak

John Holbrook
with wood engravings by James Todd

Montana Poets Series #6
Craig Czury, Editor

(as they appear in book)

Homage to a Dead War Hero, James Todd, 1965

The Ass-Festival (from F. Nietzche's `Thus Spak Zarathustra'),
James Todd, 1978

Masks, James Todd, 1966

The Hunchback, James Todd, Images from Leipzig, 1991-92 (wood cut)

Old man with a Cat, James Todd, 1965

Ghosts of the War Hawks, James Todd, 1972

James Todd Self-Portrait on workshop flyer, 1993

John, (portrait of the poet), James Todd, 2005

“Sleepscape” begins:  “Sometimes in the quiet/ sleepy canyons of drifting-off,/ then back-awake/ …amid the clutter and rubble/ of your own bones and breathing,/ when thought washes like water/ over rock and your own sense of this/ seems a footprint in the sandy threshold of it all,/ you lose yourself…”  As much as I love the music, the mood, the imagery, of these compact lines, I admire more the poet's next move:  instead of drifting into dreamy, personal reverie, the poem becomes a story about a fondly-remembered cat, a feisty pet we all might recognize.  John Holbrook's poems revel in the actual, our shared world of people and places and the stories that make some sense of this life.  They celebrate the community rather than the idiosyncratic personal, and they do so with wonder and grace.  The poem ends:  “Not lacking purpose,/ there's a lesson,/ a grooming, a licking well deserved,/ hairball pure and simple,/ muscling in on how it is,/ we live, love, and work.”    
     -Gary Thompson, author of “To the Archaeologist Who Finds Us.”

"These are muscular poems; each line is a sinew of  heart muscle. John Holbrook is a master poet at the peak of his powers. He works the language like a mason works stone, and the mortar is always love."
-Rick Demarinis, author of "The Year of the Zink Penny;"
"The Mortician's Apprentice;" "Apocalypse Then."

"Recently I was judge for the Florida Poetry contest, and I chose your 'Petition  to Common Sense,' as first-place winner. It is a solid, interesting, imaginative piece of work.  You have a fine ability to think-through a subject poetically, and to articulate things in the direction the poem wishes to go."
                                                                         -James Dickey, 1990

 "John Holbrook sees clearly, feels deeply, and tells us about it in accurate, evocative language.  We owe him--he makes life more valuable, and that is the true work."
 -William Kittredge, author of "A Hole in the Sky: A Memoir;"
"The Nature of Generosity;" co-producer of the Movie
 "A River Runs Through It."

From the Preface:

In these poems we are swept along in our daily lives / by unseen currents, bumping here and there, / our little driftwood heads against / one thing or another. Listen, when we get down to it / aren't we able to find our course / picking up steam like rivers do in their rapids. // Why argue about / what rivers and our lives are? John writes all the watermarks with mineral-pebbly syllables on our lips as we read.

Jim Todd's wood engravings startle, haunt, and auger you through Holbrook's dovetailed burrows into parallel vision-ghost masks among hunchback trees-parallel mirrors.

Craig Czury, Editor, Montana Poets Series
Reading, Pa.

From the book:


We are putting shingles on grandpa's roof.
It is early and hot already, July,
and we're right in the middle of Michigan.
Grandpa's down below, setting things up,
setting things up in rows.  We are having fun
showing our stuff, shooting staples at our toes.

It's nine o'clock, almost.  The old man's
got his dander up, lets us know with a humph
of his garlic breath
what he thinks of our toes.

The man next door, stuffed in tweed,
mulls for a moment our oats in the air,
coughs, ducks under the brim of his hat,
lugs his latched-up briefcase off to work.
He crunches bits of glass sprinkling green
on alley asphalt grandpa used to strut
with garden hoe to weed his patch.

Plum trees stretch where he yanked
grandma's rhubarb free from against the fence.
Here he tossed onions across
to neighbor Fred.
Both could flex a forearm, rippling
mighty WW II tattoos back to life.  
For the hell of it, each would eat
an onion like an apple, chew the fat.

They did that and our roof job stood
twenty years of heat, rain, tons of snow,
blood from punctured teenage toes.
All of it runs now crown to edge,
drops off pure as gold, no kidding,
and the seamless gutters do not leak,
and the paint's still good.


A heart-shaped stone
of gray-red rock.
I found it fishing,

wedged it in my pocket.
I thought it substantive,
cut as if

out of paper,
except it's rock, worn smooth
by water into lobes
which once were just
jagged fractures in stone.

where other rocks  
chipped against it,
over the centuries

it tumbled to get to me,
slanting lines
of ancient sea bed silt,

squeezed slab solid
under pressure,

tilted toward
a simple

written deep
within a continent,
resting here

for one
quiet moment
on my palm.

John Holbrook, with wife Judith, lives and writes in Missoula, Montana.  He won first place for his poem  “Petition to Common Sense,” chosen by the poet James Dickey in the 1990 Florida Poetry Contest.  His first book, Clear Water on the Swan, shared first prize with short story writer  Ron Fischer, in Montana Arts Council's 1991 First Book Award.  In 2002, Pudding House Publications published his chapbook  Loose Wool, River Tackle, Pencil Drafts, a manuscript which grew out of a grant from the Ludvig Vogelstein Foundation in 2000 to write a sequence of poems on various rivers in his region.Pudding House Pudding House published another chapbook entitled The Dance, in 2007.  Over the years he has worked as a mechanical draftsman, an industrial diamond salesman, a laborer, contract house painter, and as a participating poet in the Montana and Utah artists and writers in the schools programs.  His work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including: Antaeus, the Carolina Quarterly, Comstock Review, Cutbank, the Florida Review, Hubbub, Mississippi Review, Nebraska Review, Poetry Northwest, South Carolina Review, and the Southern Poetry Review.  

A Clear Blue Sky in Royal Oak is a 96 page hand-stitched paper book with spine - $16.00

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