Riding With the Diaspora
by John Palen
Winner of the 2021 Sheila-Na-Gig Editions Chapbook Contest
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John Palen: Life-long Midwesterner John Palen worked as a store clerk, draftsman, newspaper reporter, editor, and journalism teacher. Over the last 50 years his poems have appeared in such publications as Poetry Northwest, Sou’wester, Birmingham Poetry Review, and The Formalist, and in anthologies published by Wayne State University Press and Milkweed Editions. He won the Passages North Poetry Competition in 1989 and has been a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee. He earned a doctorate in American Studies at Michigan State University and was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities journalism fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. Mayapple Press brought out Open Communion: New and Selected Poems in 1994 and Distant Music in 2017. Recent work has appeared in The MacGuffin, Willawaw Journal, Sheila-Na-Gig, Off the Coast, Great Lakes Review, and Delmarva Review. He lives, writes and gardens on the Illinois Grand Prairie.
About the Book: The title poem of Riding With the Diaspora doesn’t come until the end, but facets of the diaspora experience — scattering, displacement, migration, homesickness, alienation, otherness —build toward it throughout. Here are poems about displaced indigenous Americans and their migrant European displacers; descendants of enslaved Africans and refugees from Nazism; the poor, the elderly and the ill, alienated from society and their own bodies; conflicted products of small-town upbringings; even seeds and microbes, scattered westward across the plains with the unsettling “settlers” of American expansion. These provide a unifying theme — one which also offers moments of reconciliation and grace — to a book of solidly crafted, humane and powerful poems.
Advance Praise: In the middle of John Palen’s collection is the poem “Where We’re From.” That seems just right, because in accessible, musical language, Palen pays unsparing but compassionate attention to the people and places of America’s heartland. These are poems that explore such contradictions of the central United States as decency and dishonesty, beauty and plainness, love and “small hatred.” I can’t think of a better guide to this rich territory than Riding With the Diaspora.
— Matthew Murrey, author of Bulletproof, chosen by Marilyn Nelson as the winner of the Jacar Press 2018 book competition.
A shrewd observer and shapeshifter, in these poems John Palen speaks in many voices: as a white surveyor among the Sac and Fox, as his boyhood self, a painting, a connoisseur of small towns, a man cutting button blanks from mussel shells, a jack pine, a Cooper’s hawk. His Midwestern sensibility links an older world to the burgeoning diversity of today. Moreover, he provides a master class in the craft of poetry.
— Elaine Palencia, author of How to Prepare Escargots, Main Street Rag.