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ISBN: 978-1-62557-069-7

To Leave for Our Own Country

Publication Date: April 2024


The poems in To Leave for Our Own Country offer a new approach to place-based writing and thought in an often uprooted age. Ranging from the shores of Lake Michigan to the small towns of Iowa and Indiana, and finally landing in the heart of New York City, they follow the course of the American small-town diaspora across three decades of a life, from childhood to the cusp of parenthood, asking what it means to belong to a landscape or community that one is constantly destined to leave. Bringing together the personal, political, historical, and spiritual, and filtering them all through the particularities of place and of his neighbors, human and nonhuman, author John Linstrom celebrates the grace of quiet moments and comings-together as he mourns the dislocations and inhuman rendings of a postmodern world. In attending to each place and stage in life with care and listening for new wisdom everywhere, some leavings take on the character of a return, and some returns have the power to release old pains. In our moment of climate crisis and amid cynical challenges to democracy, each rooted in systems of oppression and inequality, such a departure seems both urgent and necessary to turn the world toward healing.


Though what we commonly consider sacred in religious terms is referenced in this moving and love-filled collection, that tradition is eclipsed by a higher, wider, and more ethereal reach. The poems here provide a record of the poet’s always sudden and brief yet bright encounters with that unknown mystical realm—the texture of water as it falls against the shore, the sound of a snapped tree branch, the recollection of a childhood walk to school and the influence of weather on the meaning of such a walk. All common enough, one may say, but the richness of observed detail in these crisp poems is coupled with formal skill, wisely measured ambiguity, some wry off-hand humor, and plenty of wit. For my reading, that adds up to a fine, uncommonly absorbing book, one that tilts the somber toward affection and the grave toward delight.
—Maurice Manning

Wise, clear-eyed, and exquisitely musical, John Linstrom’s assured debut creates its own weather. Reading To Leave for Our Own Country, I felt the snow and rain, the welcome sun at the storm’s end, the long dark and the long day, the endings that lead—always—to new beginnings, the pure, bright, melodic holiness of the moment and what it might teach us.
—Joe Wilkins

John Linstrom’s elegantly written book of poetry opens our hearts and minds to a cosmic world of spiritual resonance. In this spectacular debut volume, Linstrom moves through geographies and the full liturgical calendar, the full circle of human experience—from love, marriage and parenthood, to loss of elders. He writes of the loss of our environment through climate change and the ways that we can create awareness of our dilemma. Then, through his visionary final poem, he directs us, with his mastery of metaphor, to leave for our own country by another road.
—Mary Swander

The natural world unfolds in ongoing changes of light and violent storms and moments of sheer sunrise and moonlit beauty as patient humans sustain their lives in John Linstrom’s lovely collection, To Leave for Our Own Country. These poems are about surviving and sheltering in each other, but they are also about stopping to notice, to remember, to honor, and to mourn the troubling signs of a changing climate. Homesickness and loss mark many of these poems, as the “retting” of the organic world—that force of nature that separates the fiber from the stem—becomes metaphor for all that which breaks down and dies away. But love is the abiding force, the glue in the world these poems occupy. “We love this world so; we pour into it,” the poems announce. And the love comes in incessant waves, love enough to survive snowstorms and near-drownings and hurricane force winds, love that flows into the poems just as tributaries, wetlands, and river mouths feed the author’s home waters of Lake Michigan. 
—Debra Marquart

About the Author

© Kate McKenna, 2018

John Linstrom

John Linstrom grew up in the Rust Belt tourist town of South Haven, Michigan, and is the author of the poetry collection To Leave for Our Own Country (Black Lawrence Press, 2024). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Northwest ReviewThe Christian CenturyNorth American Review, and elsewhere. He is currently the Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Climate Humanities and Social Justice at The Climate Museum in New York City, and in the fall of 2024 he will begin work as an Assistant Professor of English at Centenary College of Louisiana. He also serves as the Series Editor of The Liberty Hyde Bailey Library for Cornell University Press, reintroducing the ecospheric writings of fellow South Havenite Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954) to twenty-first-century readers. His editions of Bailey's works include The Nature-Study Idea and Related Writings (Cornell UP, 2024), The Liberty Hyde Bailey Gardener's Companion (coedited; Cornell UP, 2019), and The Holy Earth (Counterpoint, 2015). John holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University and a PhD in English and American Literature from New York University. He currently lives with his wife and baby daughter in Queens.

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