“The poems of Inverse Sky transpire in a magic climate conducive to old Edens and new evangels. Here are wantonness and water-lights written starkly. And here, too, are tender shades I have not met before, in a further America.”—Donald Revell, author, A Thief of Strings
“What first draws me to the poems in Inverse Sky are John Isles’s musical gifts. These poems are sonically subtle and complex, composed with virtuosic technical skill. But there’s much more going on here than beautiful language, for these energetic poems, inhabiting the history and landscape of California, are as deeply considered as they are heard. Whether Isles is observing the roller rinks and motel pools of Modern-day California or the burning missions of its past, he brings to Inverse Sky a mind keenly attuned to a problematic history, to our personal and public responsibilities. I’ve long considered John Isles one of the most exciting of the emerging generation of American poets; these poems bear that out.”—Kevin Prufer, editor, Pleiades
“Inverse Sky establishes John Isles as one of the most accomplished poets of his generation. Isles has reinvented pastoral, and the pastoral is political. He has given us American public space and a wider, and visionary, American consciousness (sky), in which ‘The truth went out / Wandering burnt hills in the pitch / With reeds in its pockets’: Isles’s poems restore us to an original relation to nature (to the city) (as Emerson demanded), even as they enact a powerful elegy for community.”—Joseph Lease, author, Broken World
“Inverse Sky is the continuously interrupted poem of an American who moves through encroaching and inaccessible properties as a stranger. A rhythmic and sonic self-enclosure is finally his only safe space. His is a caravan made of language that travels by music; it carries him and the reader along through ‘vehicular gleam.’ The reader climbs on board because there is warmth and love inside.”—Fanny Howe
Part Baudelairian flâneur, an Arcadian shepherd, the speaker in John Isles’s brave new Inverse Sky encounters a fragmented history. It is nineteenth-century California, and the missions are still burning after the Americans establish the Bear Flag Republic; it is the twenty-first century, and the miners of '49 are relegated to a mural in an arcade. Both a loner and a lover, Isles’s pilgrim-poet takes us on a journey where Native Americans are “missing persons” outside a diorama of their ancestors, then sets us adrift in settings ranging from film noir to the clear-cut hills of modern-day California landscapes, under siege but not defeated.
Inverse Sky evokes the paradigm of a shocked and disbelieving child dealing with a broken promise, yet the poems carry within themselves the knowledge that promises will be kept. The only response to broken promises is “to come undone / to come and go in a single breath.” But this is a beginning as well as an end. Each poem becomes a new world—for if there is anything on earth worth loving, it is something made with the world as it has been handed down to us. Inverse Sky is an insistent effort to "love the things not loving back.”
From “Send My Roots Rain”
In the umpteenth conception of hell . . .
In a desert of the east . . .
seven years of plenty followed by seven years
of the sun’s redundancy . . .
There comes a time to come undone,
to come and go in a single breath.
To brave the green-filmed water,
drift in pungent chemical decay
past eel grass edged periphery—
There comes a time to enter the world
without you, without hope,
and love the things not loving back.