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Near-Earth Object

ISBN: 9798989233311
Binding: Paperback
Author: John Shoptaw
Pages: 116
Trim: 6.5 x 8.5 inches
Published: 04/23/2024

In the poems of Near-Earth Object, John Shoptaw explores the interactions, sometimes dark and sometimes joyful, between humans and the non-human natural world. Resisting the human exceptionalism that in its many forms blocks our imaginative access to the world, Shoptaw entertains the perspectives of a host of others: a cricket, a bat, a nuthatch, a carnival bear, a tree's shade, cherubim, an asteroid, and — in the long poem "Whoa!" (an allegory of climate change based on the myth of Phaethon) — Earth herself. His descriptions bring to bear knowledge drawn from many sources (life and physical sciences, poetry, philosophy, conversations) as well as his own attentive experience of the world (birds at the feeder, creek-side fox squirrels, Pacific harbor seals). Along with these shifting viewpoints and scales, the poems assume various forms: anaphoric verse, poulter's measure, a seasonal "quartina," a shaped poem. Everywhere Shoptaw attends to the musical contours and momentums of his phrases, lines, sentences and stanzas.

Across the collection, Shoptaw takes up difficult and painful topics (global meltdown, animal abuse) without ever giving up either pleasure or hope. Throughout, he practices what he calls a poetics of impurity. Wary of absolutes (apocalyptic finality, unshakable optimism, utter despair), he makes the best of things in the messy world of the relative, the partial, the gradual, and the mixed.


John Shoptaw grew up in the drained Mississippi River floodplain of "Swampeast" Missouri. He was educated at Southeast Missouri State College, the University of Missouri at Columbia, and Harvard University. After some years teaching on the east coast, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he currently teaches in the UC Berkeley English Department. He is the author of On the Outside Looking Out: John Ashbery's Poetry, the libretto for Eric Sawyer's opera Our American Cousin (Boston Modern Orchestra Project), and a number of essays on poetry and poetics, including "Why Ecopoetry?" (Poetry). His poems have appeared in various venues, including Arion, Kenyon Review, The New Yorker, and Poetry. His first poetry collection, Times Beach (2015), won the Notre Dame Review Book Prize and the Northern California Book Award in Poetry.


"Shoptaw's poetry anthology considers an environment in peril, highlighting the beauty of what could be lost. The introduction to this collection, written by the author's former student, classifies the book as a work of ecopoetics, defined as nature poetry positioned 'in a crisis-ridden present that is populated with individuals and mixtures, not symbols or binaries.' By anthropomorphizing the animals, Shoptaw invites readers to empathize with the natural world, ideally to entice them to adopt the ecopoetic goal of increased harmony with nature. Though lay readers may find some of the scientific words in the poems challenging, the collection as a whole is accessible and a pleasure to read. A stirring ecopoetic collection that moves readers to protect the beauty of the natural world." - Kirkus Reviews

"In Near-Earth Object, the limestone ledges of the Missouri bootheel and the sweeping scale of cosmological time come together—like alchemy—in clarifying new work by John Shoptaw. Shoptaw's poetry is part memory and part typology, as he sorts the 'blue springs' from the 'apple moonshine,' shaping his work into quantitative syllabics (à la Marianne Moore) or, by turns, into natural-flowing free verse. His deeper imperative, though—spiritual, aesthetic, cultural—is to speak on behalf of a bruised ecosystem, enriching but mightily imperiled. When the poet asks us 'who's the invasive species,' we know, of course; even when 'it's hard to see the climate for the days,' Shoptaw shows us the beauty we've inherited and the battered ruins we're leaving." - David Baker

"For those of us who still hold out hope for our imperiled planet, these poems offer a riveting testimony of devotion. In lines that are ecstatically alert, yet also taut, precise, and devastatingly honest, Shoptaw shows us both the joy and the cost of genuine stewardship. The revelation here is not only of the magnificence of our environment and the outrage we've inflicted on it—but of the capacity of poetry to dramatize its epic fate. Near-Earth Object reveals what loving our planet really looks like, and what stirring music such love can make." - Danielle Chapman