Monument in a Summer Hat
In James Armstrong’s pellucid poetry the drifting of autumn leaves shares space with the baroque architecture of nineteenth century England. A woman peruses a book of pharmaceuticals in a coffee shop looking for hints of happiness. And a naked woman wearing hip boots stares out of the 1940s in a photograph hung in a Michigan bar. Twilight is always moving the shadows of our urban lives out toward the country, our inherited past, where a deer or a heron waits like an angel glimpsed through the fog. Armstrong’s poems elucidate the mystery and beauty of borders– temporal and historical, as well as geographical– while his pastoral sensibility floods our senses with images of the natural world, seemingly stopping time, edifying us, and helping us–for a few moments anyway–to transcend our enervated contemporary lives. Reading this book is like diving into a deep lake. It cleanses the soul.
“In Monument in a Summer Hat, James Armstrong’s splendid first book of poems, we discover a poet of high craftsmanship, great learning, and a benign, almost classical intellect addressing himself, with a fine eloquence, to the quiet life of provincial surroundings. When I think of the character of this work, I am reminded of those Chinese governors of the T’ang, eloquent poets of fine, metaphysical minds, sent eastward into the deep interiors of wild, barbaric lands far from the gentle capital of civilization, sending their beautifully considered, mildly expressed, but profoundly sorrowful missives to this eternity that is literature. The poet James Armstrong is no less a civil governor of wild, metaphysical lands–a dutiful servant of our American eternity.”
“Armstrong has the gift of creating figures ancient and allegorical, making of their posture and gesture–figured and disfigured–a meditation on human time. His historical intelligence and visionary power render images into emblems that bear witness to attrition, while reinstating the dignity with which so many centuries of human thought and action, even error and evil, have endowed them. These are, in every sense, memorable poems.”
“James Armstrong blends a haiku-like clarity with classical austerity, all the while yearning, in poem after poem, for that primal world in which fragility might have time to grow strong. His is a first book whose essential gravity is lightened by freshness and charm.”
James Armstrong grew up in Portage, Michigan. Armstrong is the author of Monument of a Summer Hat (New Issues) and Blue Lash (Milkweed Editions). His poems have appeared in Triquarterly, Gulf Coast, Orion, The Snowy Egret, the New York Times Book Review, Shade, and elsewhere. Armstrong received the PEN-New England Discovery Prize for poetry in 1996, and he has been awarded an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in poetry and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship in poetry. He is currently a professor of English at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota.