Welcome, John Linstrom!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you John Linstrom, whose forthcoming book To Leave for Our Own Country will be published next spring. 

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 




The Author

John Linstrom is the author of the poetry collection To Leave for Our Own Country (Black Lawrence Press, 2024). He is a Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Climate and Inequality at The Climate Museum in New York City, and he is also the Series Editor of The Liberty Hyde Bailey Library for Cornell University Press, which reintroduces the ecospheric writings of Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954) to twenty-first-century readers. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Northwest ReviewThe Christian CenturyNorth American Review, and elsewhere, and his editions of Bailey’s works include The Nature-Study Idea (Cornell UP, 2024), The Liberty Hyde Bailey Gardener’s Companion (coedited; Cornell UP, 2019), and The Holy Earth (Counterpoint, 2015). He holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University and a PhD in English and American Literature from New York University. A child of small-town Michigan, he now lives with his wife and baby daughter in Queens.




On Writing To Leave for Our Own Country

To Leave for Our Own Country is my first poetry book, and while I probably wrote a solid half of the poems that it contains within the past five years or so, the collection spans a period reaching as far back as about 2009. I started writing poetry seriously—in terms of a real willingness to revise, to try new things, to accept others’ opinions, and generally stretch my craft—in college, and I started to find my voice in the years shortly after that, helped along in no small part by a supportive writing community I was fortunate enough to join in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University, which I was able to attend because it was fully funded. In those days, they also only required a 2-1 teaching load, which left more time for writing if you managed your schedule well. A writing workshop with Deb Marquart required that we submit two new poems for feedback every single week, and I learned that that pace was manageable for me, and usually one out of the two ended up being something I actually liked and wanted to keep working with. I’ve never kept up that pace since—I tend to fall deep into the poems I write, and it seems like my brain only has so much space for that kind of thinking/engagement—but it became a helpful guidepost for the possible. A good chunk of these poems, maybe a quarter, are from those years. Many of the more recent ones were experiments in commuting—while my preference for drafting is longhand in a writing journal, revising as I go and then giving a second initial set of revisions while I transcribe to the computer, I adapted Deb’s lesson to my new life in New York City and recently began drafting in the notes app of my smartphone while riding the subway from far Queens into central Manhattan for my work at NYU (as a doctoral student and then a postdoc) and then the Climate Museum. I wouldn’t want to write this way forever, but it has allowed me to keep working.

In a way, that commuter’s writing practice—seeking a centered state of mind for writing and thinking while simultaneously hurtling underground from one world to the next—began to help me crystallize a theme I’d been working through with my poetry for over a decade, a theme born of necessity and circumstance. I’ve been trying to work through how to make sense of my place in a climate changing world as a small-town kid from South Haven, Michigan, concerned about the ecological impact of moving too frequently to feel the kind of deep interspecies connection to place that I still feel about the bioregion surrounding my hometown. There was a time I hoped to return to South Haven, but the lines of capital seem always to drag me toward “opportunity” that always lies farther afield, and it’s hard to tell how much of this I can really control as an individual caught in the current. I was reading Wendell Berry when I began finding my poetic voice, as well as my fellow South Havenite Liberty Hyde Bailey, and I’m sure the challenges posed by their writings had an impact on my thought. I realized I was born into an American small-town diaspora that was hurting rural communities and the land, as rural infrastructure suffered under rural-to-(sub)urban migration and the political attention of the nation increasingly turned away from the concerns of the land’s full biotic communities, human and more-than-human.

I am still grappling with what that means, but it’s not like I was left spiritually starved. I have kept my antennae up for moments of place-connection in all the neighborhoods I’ve lived in since and across many friendships and communities, trying to weave those encounters into a growing awareness of my transient position under the historic and ongoing forces of global capitalism, environmental racism, land theft, etc. How does one swim against the current without becoming just another weathered stone? I am trying to live subversively without losing kindness, humility, grace. When I realized I had something close to a book’s worth of poems I felt really good about, I printed out what I had and started moving the poems around on the floor of our apartment. I started to see this theme emerge more concretely, and I found an organizational structure to suit the theme. I kept revising the old poems and writing new ones, with an increasing sense of the shape of the book and its gaps and needs, until I felt what I had was both the right length for a collection and, more importantly, was locking in as a kind of new organism that had something to say. The book ends with a scene in which my community in Queens, NY is confronted with a moment of national unraveling that feels apocalyptic in the old sense—a revealing, a tearing away of the veil. The book’s title comes from that moment, and a wondering question about how to move into a new age or paradigm without physically moving away from this place where we find ourselves—a leaving that might become a kind of endless return.


Selection from To Leave for Our Own Country


Liturgy of Next Door

I remember when everything mystical
was connected. The dark repeating tuh-thump
of car tires on the highway at night,
the way they changed their rhythm nearing home,
related to the raucous thumps of warped old pews
as grown-ups stood before the gospel, or
the random pops and clicks I’d hear, sitting
weekdays in the empty church next door, between

notes, practicing for lessons on the boxy upright
Everett piano. When the power went out
in the parsonage, the tall clay kerosene lamp,
which I had always assumed was decoration, lit
the dining room, the wide cloth wick so slowly
consumed, and that fire entubed in glass
might have been the same eternal flame
that lived in red glass hanging left
of the altar next door. My dad explained
that when the candle got too low, the new
was lit with the old one’s flame, so that’s how
it could be eternal. I asked, what if when they’re changing
there’s a breeze? Someone left the window
cracked? That, he said, and smiled, also
happens. It’s just a candle, John.
Sometimes, sitting on a rotty log, the wind
would come from over the church parking lot
down the chilly mud of the ravine, and toss
my hair, and might remind me of the candle
in the red glass tube, or the fluty music
of the Shadowfax cassette we played at night, or the weight
and lightness of the history when I first walked around
the columned, busted, marbled university library
in another town. I didn’t name the chill
I’d feel at times, my momma rocking
in the living room chair, my eyes closed, sick,
or poppa typing in his office next door, up the stairs,
stacks of papers leaning silent every step;
I only knew it had to do with darkness
and repeating beats, with something coming home.


First published in Roanoke Review




Out of State

Somewhere in Michigan
the creek has frozen
and the streetlamp-yellowed snow
is creased by tree shadow
where I stood
beside the broken lawn chair
left by neighbors, where I traced
Courtney Burrows’ backbone, undid pigtails,
and thought about the sonatina
I’d been practicing in lessons.
I thirst remembering
that creek bed,
drink it like water—
a simple matter of muscle
memory, flow of melody
from tendons subconsciously tugged.
But we are graduates, and we kiss
in rooms with creaky floors.
A foreign city’s wind sounds
like almost any other; your heart
keeps standard time—
I feel it in your neck.
The light from the window
falls on the piano,
which is missing some internal hammers,
and the sonatina returns
as my fingers tap
the tune of passing cars
on the small of your back.

First published in Valparaiso Poetry Review




Climate Signals, Sunset Park
       after Justin Brice Guariglia’s
       public art installation, Brooklyn
The traffic sign flashes
pointillistic messages
into the sloping night—
two boys speak softly
in Spanish, sitting
against the weighted base—
its signals, warnings:
—clouds mirror a feeble
urban glow in gray,
skyline a distant centipede
of luminescent scales, concealing
mown grass, delayed autumn, soft murmurs.


First published in Commonweal Magazine