What Sparks Poetry

Books We’ve Loved

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature in which we invite poets to explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems.

In Books We’ve Loved, we asked our editorial board members and select guest editors to reflect on a book that has been particularly meaningful to them in the last year, with the intention of creating a list of book recommendations for our valued readers.

Maud Casey on Joanna Klink’s The Nightfields

Elegies for friendships, fathers, love, trees, words spoken and unspoken, shame (which “is nothing to the ravines and the pines/the ice and luna moths”). Published in July 2020, Joanna Klink’s The Nightfields—songs of loss, psalms of praise—arrived right on time. “If you have grieved you have loved. Twinned/like the sun’s thread-corona, the moon’s deepening pearl.”

That grief is proof of love was something I needed to hear every day of 2020, and into 2021, and still and always. I read from The Nightfields most mornings for the vertiginous pleasure of scale, for the sense of intimacy and infinitude, in order to feel my insignificance in the world. Our relative insignificance, our like-it-or-not interconnectedness, Klink reminds us, is not such a bad thing to feel. And besides, it is a fact. Remember: “you are the brief errand of what was/given to you in unceasing splendor.”

The anchor of The Nightfields is a series of thirty-one poems called “Night Sky,” which, as Klink explains in the notes at the back of the book, she began writing “after studying James Turrell’s Roden Crater, an extinct volcano in the Painted Desert of Northern Arizona that the artist is transforming into an observatory for the perception of time.” Turrell has been working on the tunnels and apertures in the volcanic cinder cone, all aimed at creating an environment in which people might see light, since 1977. He is not finished; the work is ongoing, which makes sense. An observatory for the perception of geologic and celestial time might take a while.

In the notes, Klink writes that in the poem series “Night Sky,” “a voice is speaking to a person looking out at the night sky.” The voice in the poems begins there, but the perspective shifts over the course of the sequence, from a direct address to a collective we and occasionally to an I.

To whom the voice is speaking shifts too—sometimes the voice appears to speak to the night sky; sometimes the voice appears to be the night sky. This chimes with Turrell’s work with light, which often requires you to lie on your back, looking up, as light washes over you, through you, entwined with you, twinned with you. “Mercy grows in you,” writes Klink. And it does.

Writing Prompt

Casey highlights The Nightfields for its elegiac rendering of the night sky. Write your own elegy for the night sky.

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Maud Casey

Maud Casey is the author of five books of fiction, including City of Incurable Women (forthcoming from Bellevue Literary Press in 2022), and a work of nonfiction, The Art of Mystery: The Search for Questions. She teaches at the University of Maryland and lives in Washington, DC.