Second Nature


John Witte

  • Published: 2008
  • Subject Listing: Poetry
  • Bibliographic information: 104 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World
  • Series: Pacific Northwest Poetry Series
  • Contents

I'll write it
but in my measure not your clotted
hexed pentameters but these quick whiplash triplets the first

line breathless
then a rustle of wings spilling out
a long tumbling exhalation probing the margin of possibility

-from “Ovid 101”

John Witte's poetry sweeps the reader immediately into its crosscurrents, its passionate engagement and its ambivalence. Composed of staggered tercets, the poems in Second Nature track the chaotic rush and swerve of life as we live it. Wide open to the world, Witte writes with uncommon energy and urgency and his vision is exhilarating.

Second Nature teems with expertly realized lyrics, monologues, and narratives, as well as poems based on historical figures from Ovid to Janis Joplin. The metaphors for human endurance, and the transformative power of art and community, are accurate and rich. Alert to the dangers of love and loss, Witte finds his poems where sorrow and transcendence converge. Like birds singing their “desperate psalm” in a clear-cut, his poems bring us a rare kind of hope.

John Witte's poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, and, among numerous anthologies, The Norton Introduction to Literature. The recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, he lives with his family in Eugene, Oregon, where he teaches at the University of Oregon and edits Northwest Review. Second Nature is his third book of poetry.

"Much of Second Nature is written in what Witte calls 'whiplash triplets,' minimally punctuated, heavily enjambed three-line stanzas, in which each successive line lengthens. The form demands that we follow syntax closely, keeping us awake to language. It also allows Witte great freedom to switch topic and location. Juxtapositions go unannounced; phrases and images simply run together. Witte counts on us to experience the friction . . . . the light-hand is apiece with Witte's calm intelligence. This generous, humble collection sings about our joy, but neither naively nor 'too loud.' " - The Antioch Review

"Using skilled and expert verse to explain his views of the world, human nature, and history, his message is optimistic and uplifting, as well as poignant and powerful." - Midwest Book Review

"[A] resonant collection of poems from a life closely observed. . . . [the] eighth volume in the excellent Pacific Northwest Poetry Series." -Seattle Post-Intelligencer