Longlisted for The Laurel Prize 2023
Ghost River invites readers to stare down blue-mouthed crevasses, venture into old growth forests, and peer beneath the floorboards of ancestral homesteads. In this lyrical and intimate portrait of America’s Pacific Northwest, wilderness and home are interwoven. But this is not Arcadia. Deep time is punctured by strip malls and freeways, wildfires and dams. Questioning the influence of the past on the present, the central sequence reimagines this landscape from the perspective of the British explorer, George Vancouver, who charted its waterways on an expedition to locate the illusive Northwest Passage. In their passage between America and England and the terrain of early motherhood, these poems of loss and renewal explore what it is to be home.
Born and raised in America’s Washington state, Kris Johnson moved to the UK in 2007. Ghost River is her first book-length collection.
'This debut collection is steeped in deep ecology and a fascination for the land that exists beneath naming and mapping ... These are musical, lyrical poems that evoke the majesty of landscape, the depth and power of water and invite us to stop, and look again.' - Mary Mulholland, The Alchemy Spoon, on Ghost River
‘This is centred on the landscape of America’s Pacific Northwest, but it is no rural idyll: ruggedly beautiful, steeped in myth and mystery, but also dark and dangerous … Impossible to do this rich and complex collection justice in a short review: it will reward frequent rereading and group discussion.’ – Frank Startup, The School Librarian, on Ghost River
'Kris Johnson's Ghost River is a book full of water – from the beautiful and dangerous lakes from the landscape of childhood to the waterways mapped by George Vancouver in the late 1700s. Mapping – of space, place and connection – is abundant in these poems, which explore family history, birth and motherhood with extraordinary and tender precision of language. The natural world rises through Johnson's writing, both in real manifestations and as metaphor, and the landscape of the Pacific Northwest forms the backbone of this collection, which is both wonderful and full of wonder.' – Hannah Lowe
'Kris Johnson offers a mythic sense of the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, fuelled by a complex sense of belonging – and of the feminine dimension of place which lends her work a subtly erotic and immersive quality. The poems encompass both the lyric and the dramatic, and she has an exceptional ear for cadence and timing. While she renews and recalibrates the imaginative world we may glimpse in the work of James Wright, Roethke and Annie Dillard, she is also clearly possessed of an individual vision and song. What most excites me is the unity of thought, feeling and musicality.' – Sean O'Brien
'I’ve waited so long for Kris Johnson’s beautiful book, dark and deep as the forests and waters of her Pacific Northwest. Time, change, loss and the luminous transformations of motherhood are here in exquisite and unflinching detail. Flooded with the wonders of the natural world, these poems are at once a map of the landscape and a map of the human heart.' – Liz Berry
'In this immersive debut the dark pull of the lake is irresistible; despite the undertow of drownings we cannot help but skinny dip in its depths. Here, we are held by great bodies of water, forests and mountains, as the poet tries to reconcile the beauty and danger of the American West, the stillness of the hills and the restless passage of time. This is a perfectly poised, contemplate pamphlet which reminds us all that "to hold the world in our palms / and settle the dust // we must hold our grief / as a plum its stone".' – Poetry Book Society Bulletin, on Skinny Dip
Kris Johnson reads from Ghost River at Newcastle Poetry Festival 2023
In this reading at the 2023 Newcastle Poetry Festival, Kris reads eight poems from Ghost River: 'Rainier', 'Bodies of Water', 'Ghost River', 'Theoretical Geographers', 'Pseudotsuga menziesii', 'Passage', 'Northwest Passage' and 'Tectonics'.
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