2023 Minnesota Book Award Finalist in Poetry
The poems in Janna Knittel's new collection describe family life on the farm, celebrate natural environments that inspire deeply, process childhood emotions with the help of decades of living, and quietly assuage the wounds suffered due to personal crisis and loss.
A wooden box on a desk, a father's hands, the lives of rabbits and bees, a rare visit to church—these are a few of the subjects illuminated in these finely crafted pieces. A mother's dementia. Memories of a hardscrabble childhood: listening to the murmuring of voices from the back seat of a truck on long drives home from family camping trips; fishing with Dad; rolling cigarettes with a favorite aunt, roasting salmon whole over coals behind the church.
Locales in Oregon and Minnesota surface: Grand Portage, Isle Royale. Grief arrives with the unexpected death of an older and much admired sister. The details are sketchy but the pain is palpable. A lyric gravity infuses these stark yet often lovely pieces. The "real work" required on the farm has been transformed repeatedly into acts of literary precision and emotional honesty.
Janna Knittel is from the Pacific Northwest and now lives in Minnesota. Janna's previous publications include the chapbook Fish & Wild Life (Finishing Line Press, 2018) and poems in Between These Shores Literary and Arts Annual, Blueline, Breakwater Review, Constellations, Cottonwood, North Dakota Quarterly, Up North Lit, Whale Road Review, and The Wild Word, among other journals, as well as the anthology Waters Deep: A Great Lakes Anthology (Split Rock Review, 2018). Janna has taught literature and writing classes at colleges and universities in Oregon, Kansas, and Minnesota, and has also published scholarly essays on literature.
"The poems in Real Work come from the 'thin places' where 'Heaven and Earth overlap.' It is here that Knittel excavates love and loss, and the lessons they teach, guided always by salmon, kingfisher, raven, bear—by nature itself." - Connie Wanek
"Janna Knittel's Real Work is filled with heft, the poems carrying the weight of farmlands and rural America. There's beauty and play, but with each turn, a blade is waiting to slice. 'Am I normal?' Knittel asks. 'Someone, weigh my heart.' We're given an elegy here, but not just for people—for a time, a place, an ethic—and in these poems Knittel makes room for living and healing." - Brian Baumgart
"Knittel's collection focuses on family, the natural world, loss, fear, grief, and survival. Many of the poems celebrate places—islands, national parks, farms, homes, Oregon, Minnesota—and indigenous flora and fauna. Portraits and memories, especially of parents and a sister, now deceased, give rise to elegiac lines, for 'nothing hefts/this slab of bluestone/from my chest.' Yet Knittel's resilience, toughness, and the right tools propel her as on a river or a trail, knowing she's 'strong enough to carry everything [she needs].'" - Donna Isaac
"Revealing an expert and generous feel not only for the physical world but also the language, Janna Knittel's Real Work shows how central contemporary American poetry can be to our lives. Whether portraying family life or the creatures of the wilderness, Knittel writes with high-res clarity, lyrical economy, social conscience, and imagination. This is a superb debut." - Peter Campion