James Haug

Paper $16.95
(ISBN 978-0997335521

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Winner of the 2017 FIELD Poetry Prize

Oberlin College Press has championed the prose poem throughout its history, publishing such stellar examples as Russell Edson’s The Tunnel, Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s Egypt from Space and the first and final sections of Jeffrey Skinner’s 2017 prize-winner Chance Divine. James Haug’s Riverain is a masterful addition to that list, and a delight throughout. From the deadpan pastoral of "Cows Are a Good Idea" to quizzical fables like "Silent River," from dreamlike meditations such as "First It Didn’t Sound Like" to tender parables like "Fraught with Sudden Appearances," this collection is mysterious, hilarious, and utterly unpredictable.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Tate described Haug’s previous collection as "marvelous poems, ones that help us see what might have been or could have been, in a world full of light." These new prose poems are equally revelatory, illuminating the natural world, contemporary culture, and New England metaphysics in witty and heartbreaking ways.

In James Haug’s Riverain "the fact of the matter [is] not a matter of fact." These gorgeous prose poems are pinwheels viewed through prisms, flipbooks that transmute on each thumb-through, as in "The house was playing house as we played house inside it..." and "A house of driftwood is opposed to its nature. Unlike driftwood, houses prefer to stay put." It’s astonishingly unmooring to encounter this brilliantly baffled brain: "My thought shifted in a big meaningful way, like a parking officer opening his ticket pad."
Matthea Harvey

In Riverain, James Haug maps a town that is both particular and many, just as the river within it manages to appear constant despite the perpetual flux of its body. In wonderful, understatedly fantastic prose, Haug lets each poem follow its train of thought with a calm assertiveness, pushing its logic forward like a talky Vasko Popa. These poems grabbed my brain warmly, and I was a glad visitor to their timeless small town America, where "It’s a fine thing to be helped, to climb a ladder during a full moon."
Christopher DeWeese

Riverain gifts us an atlas of an unnamed valley situated around a curious river. By curious, I mean this river thinks, wonders, reverses course, and covers itself with snow, and yet is more reliable than any of the townspeople perambulating along its banks. Be they playful or profound, these poems surprise and delight. As one of Riverain’s narrators confides, "It was the end of our beliefs, the beginning of our wanderings." Haug is a master at making the mundane magical and the mystical common. His plainspoken encounters with the denizens of the river valley never succumb to the burden of expectations, for they, like the river, are joyfully unpredictable and alive.
William Waltz



In the Woods

There was an afternoon when coming out of the woods was like coming out of the afternoon. And to find oneself in the woods was like finding oneself in a rainstorm. The abandoned house in the woods was a house from a book, a house abandoned in a book, and it was a book about being lost when it rains and finding the house when you need it most, and the house is sweetly furnished with lace curtains and embroidered runners and framed pictures on the walls of cottages situated sweetly in the woods. The book was a book abandoned in a house about being a book in an abandoned house, a book committed to an unreadable tale of flight, of rain in the afternoon, rain in the woods that made the afternoon like twilight in the woods. The house was playing house as we played house inside it and the rain made all of it close and gave us something to wait for. There would be more rain, more woodland to tramp through, our jackets pulled up over our heads. Before the woman who once lived there returned, there was only us to wonder, and since running off, we didn’t turn around, we didn’t leave a trail.


Dismal Levels

The river was collecting snow on itself. Almost nobody was coming to see it. Its banks were either slick and muddy, or frozen and rutted. The river was letting itself go. Here and there it was jammed with branches that trapped chunks of ice from the current, and plastic jugs and scraps of chicken wire, and there it was that snow collected. Once a day, someone with spikes on his shoes puffed along one of the banks, adding to the available store of good health, another rugged jerk. Oh dismal levels, thought the river, when it came to the subject of water lines. I’m only a murky reflection of the heavens, of winter clouds congealing, broken lines of geese, stars and moon and satellites. The river thought long and hard about what going down to the river must mean. It was the best place, thought the river, to think long and hard.


Copyright © 2018 by James Haug. May not be reproduced without permission.

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