The 30 poems of John James included in The Milk Hours are haunted in one way or another; they carefully and soberly take account of what it means to be aware of the natural world, and the inherent cost of that knowledge. It's no wonder "Le Moribond" nods to French songwriter Jacques Brel--both James and Brel write works that are given over to death and the decay that follows it. However, James never treats death as something to be longed for, or as a sick joke. The language he uses to describe the discovery of the bodies of animals and grief over lost parents is sober and considered. This is a writer who has found clarity and delivered it through the poetic form.
Life is here as well, uneasily cohabiting with the dead. The title poem of the collection, "The Milk Hours," grapples with James's new fatherhood in the context of his own long-gone father. Throughout the collection, history frames the present, whether in quotations from Plato or Walter Benjamin, or simply in memory. The inherent tension between these subjects--past and present, life and death--animates his work and breathes life into it. Regardless of theme, however, James is a poet of staggering lyricism, intricate without ever obscuring his intent. Winner of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, The Milk Hours announces the arrival of a great new talent in American poetry. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer