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Poetry Death

The King of Terrors

by (author) Jim Johnstone

Coach House Books
Initial publish date
Sep 2023
Death, Canadian
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    Publish Date
    Sep 2023
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    Publish Date
    Sep 2023
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What can we remove from ourselves and still be ourselves?

Written after a brain tumour diagnosis, The King of Terrors is a treatise on living with illness and the way that language, relationships and our immersion in the natural world can free us from the spectre of impending collapse. Johnstone's poems oscillate between the personal and the public, the clinical and the spiritual, so we're never quite sure what we are seeing, no matter how familiar.

"There is a moving, fierce intensity to The King of Terrors. Jim Johnstone knowingly reminds us that betrayals of the body are also betrayals of language, ‘each bloody / mouthful a sentence fragment.’ These are lines of admission, ambition, and harrowing truth, and Johnstone – despite a future only as certain ‘as the body // it inhabits’ – offers a form of redemption, for the fortitude of the sick, for poetry itself." – Randall Mann, author of Deal: New and Selected Poems

"The King of Terrors is a luminous meditation on the otherworld of illness and treatment, contemplating the mysteries of death and the frontiers of mind and body with sharp clarity and radical vulnerability. These mesmerizing, urgent poems admit us not only to waiting rooms and brain scans, but also to the intimate fears that accompany the estranging experience of being unwell, or, as the poet says, living 'between / age and agency.' Haunting, stark, and lyrical, The King of Terrors is charged, as all the best poetry is, with the shock of the mortal." – Sarah Holland-Batt, author of The Jaguar

About the author

Jim Johnstone is a Canadian writer, editor, and physiologist. He is the author of four books of poetry: Dog Ear (Véhicule Press, 2014), Sunday, the Locusts (Tightrope Books, 2011), Patternicity (Nightwood Editions, 2010) and The Velocity of Escape (Guernica Editions, 2008), as well as the subject of the critical monograph Proofs & Equational Love: The Poetry of Jim Johnstone by Shane Neilson and Jason Guriel. He has won several awards including a CBC Literary Award, Matrix Magazine?s LitPop Award, The Fiddlehead?s Ralph Gustafson Poetry Prize and This Magazine?s Great Canadian Literary Hunt. Currently, Johnstone is the Poetry Editor at Palimpsest Press, and an Associate Editor at Representative Poetry Online.

Jim Johnstone's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"The King of Terrors [is] an invitation for us to ponder how our relationships, past and present, give temporary form to our worlds." – Kevin Spenst, Subterrain

". . . [T]his is precisely what makes Johnstone’s work such a treat for us humble reviewers. We never need to look too hard to find some objet d’art in his work to fixate on." – Jade Wallace, CAROUSEL Magazine

". . . rarely has a poet written with such insight and precision about the surgical process itself. . ." – David Starkey, '31 Outstanding Poetry Books from 2023,' The California Review of Books

"Despite the unexpected and sudden diagnosis, the poems themselves continue a trajectory of approach from his prior collection, offering a wistful and examining commentary on the violence that exists just below the surface of the skin, whether through larger culture, or quite literally." – Rob McLennan, Dusie

"Jim Johnstone’s The King of Terrors is a poetic telling of how illness and a close encounter with death can make us strange to ourselves and to the world. The book offers a chance to see our lives anew, even the things we regret. The poems dance between accepting death and hoping for a second chance to do it all again. As the poet says, “the future is as certain / as the body / it inhabits / and multiplies rapidly.” – Courtney Bates-Hardy, The Ampersand Review

"In The King of Terrors, Johnstone questions the feasibility of truth and redefines it as creative practice. His authorial voice simultaneously narrates the supposed facts and is unable to do justice to who he is or how he feels. If he as the poet is doubled, made other, and torn apart, the symbolic rendering of sincerity in writing is already suspect at its source." – Klara du Plessis, The Fiddlehead

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