Johanna Skibsrud’s debut poetry collection makes inquiries into that peculiar phenomenon of being alive in the world, opening wide moments of uncertainty in the search for a sense of inner resolve that resembles the outer calm of trees and neighbours. At each step testing the waters of her own words, Skibsrud turns her reality over in search of constants.
Skibsrud’s is a world of touchstones. An abandoned boat, her grandmother’s house, a piano, and the annual departure and return of migratory birds are fixtures in the process of coming to know the self, serving both as rhythmic landings and as footholds in a pursuit of understanding.
The collection’s title chapter is a series of takes on the Western genre, its character profiles, sweeping landscapes and the hyperbolic adventures to be had within. Whether based in Nova Scotia, Montana or Arizona, Skibsrud colours the facts with fantastical elements, transforming stories into ballads and road trips into cowboy-studded escapades.
“Sometimes, when I was a little girl,” says Skibsrud, “I would close my eyes and try to press myself to a very fine point. It was an attempt to define myself as both separate from, and integral to, the outside world. It consistently astounded me that the border between the two was so hard to describe. In many ways this book is a continuation of those first efforts. The title, Late Nights With Wild Cowboys, comes from the poem by the same name and is central in that?like many of the poems within the collection?it is about chasing ideas and forms (the problem of where one ends and the other begins), as well as the problem of understanding and expressing the experiences that elude those boundaries. Although light in tone, it’s a poem about seeking always to live more exactly, more deeply?and also about something much larger and simpler that I, because I still cannot define it, write into poems instead.”
Finalist for the 2009 Gerald Lampert Award.
About the author
Johanna Skibsrud is a novelist, poet and Assistant Professor of English at the University of Arizona. Her debut novel, The Sentimentalists, was awarded the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, making her the youngest writer to win Canada's most prestigious literary prize. The book was subsequently shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Award and is currently translated into five languages. The New York Times Book Review describes her most recent novel, Quartet for the End of Time (Norton 2014) as a "haunting" exploration of "the complexity of human relationships and the myriad ways in which identity can be malleable." "It is exhilarating", writes the Washington Post, "to join a novelist working at these bracing heights." Johanna is also the author of two collections of short fiction: This Will Be Difficult to Explain (2011; shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award) and Tiger, Tiger (2018), a children's book, and three books of poetry. Her latest poetry collection, The Description of the World (2016), was the recipient of the 2017 Canadian Author's Association for Poetry and the 2017 Fred Cogswell Award. Johanna's poems and stories have been published in Zoetrope, Ecotone, and Glimmertrain Magazine, among numerous other journals. Her scholarly essays have appeared in, among other places, The Luminary, Excursions, Mosaic, TIES, and The Brock Review. A critical monograph titled The Poetic Imperative: A Speculative Aesthetics is forthcoming. A novel, Island, will also be published by Hamish Hamilton Canada in fall 2019.