cover of book

by Jason Sommer
University of Chicago Press, 2021
eISBN: 978-0-226-73742-3 | Paper: 978-0-226-73739-3
Library of Congress Classification PS3569.O6532P67 2021
Dewey Decimal Classification 811.54

Taking inspiration from medieval sea charts—portulans—the poems in Jason Sommer’s collection bring a fresh variation to the ancient metaphor of life as a journey. Creating a coordinate system charting paths between ports and the dangers that surrounded them, portulans offered webs of routes and images through which sailors could navigate. These maps—both accurate and beautifully illustrated—guided mariners from port to port weaving paths at the threshold of the open sea. Similarly, the course of these poems navigates familiar mysteries and perennial questions through times of unbelief, asking whether consciousness is anchored in the transcendent, if inward travel can descend past the self, and if the universe can be accounted for by physics alone.
Is there more to the story that you remember and hesitate
to say? Your eyes, though, scanning upward in their sockets,
do seem to search memory, but for what may be gone already,
gone to where it goes—wherever it came from—gone as can be imagined,
down into things, in past flesh and bark, marrow and pith, and down,
down into molecule, atom, particle, vanishing into theory.
Through this collection, Sommer takes us to the ocean floor, into the basement, out the front door, through multiverses, and in and out of dreams. Along the way, he considers whether art—the beauty of the map—can provide momentary meaning against a backdrop of oblivion. Drawing on history and myth, the voices in these poems consider what can and cannot be known of the self and the other, of our values, and of what we insist has permanence. These are poems of searching. Like ancient cartographers who lent lavish decoration to their maps, the poems in Portulans illuminate possibilities of beauty in each journey. 

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