Poems for the heart and mind, the way dreams can feel real

Mystic Orchards, By Jonathan Koven

In
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Book cover. Rich, abstract swirls of white, blue, and green paint evoke a tree and a galaxy.

Mystic Orchards, Philadelphia-based poet Jonathan Koven’s second poetry book, wanders between prose and poetry, dreams and waking, living and what comes after—and what comes before.

Koven ushers readers through the orchard of this collection, taking the time not only to admire each fruit, but also to honor the trees that bore them. He shares memories with readers, inviting us to consider how inextricably linked we are to those who came before us—both ancestors and the younger versions of ourselves that we carry with us.

And yet, he also frequently takes time to pause, sink teeth into the fruit’s flesh, and savor the tasting: “Someday, I will learn / youth is a story, …. Future, fantasy. / Here I am. / Here I am.”

“And yet.” It’s a phrase repeated in the collection, succinctly reminding us of the inherent twists and turns the mind takes, inevitably contradicting itself in sensical ways, as well as, ultimately, signifying the lack of certainty, stability, and permanence in this life. And isn’t that terror beautiful?

There is an ever-present tenderness of love that connects landscapes both imagined and observed in this collection, praising the breathless realization that comes with loving and being loved. “Waking often happens long after the eyes have opened. (And there she is, my name in her hands).

Throughout Mystic Orchards, Koven poets language; he recasts words in new molds—verbing nouns and adjectives to give them softer edges, allowing readers to comfortably fit them inside uncharted brain rivets of understanding, as if they always belonged there. “All the while, the sky windows a view / of a childlike stranger / wearing a terrific mask of my aged face.”

Koven crafts a world in Mystic Orchards that embodies the title, bringing us to a place of the heart and mind, simultaneously otherworldly and familiar, the way dreams so often feel, and inviting us to bring our own bushels to fill with the fruits we find as we make our way through these poems.

What, When, Where

Mystic Orchards. By Jonathan Koven. American Fork, Utah: Kelsay Books, September 27, 2023. 98 pages, paperback; $20. Get it here.

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