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Front Cover | Back Cover

Author Biography

Endorsements

Articles & Reviews

What an Island Knows

poems by Alexander Levering Kern
foreword by Betsy Sholl, Former Poet Laureate of Maine

Print (softcover) $18.95  

 

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Written over a period of nearly twenty years, the poems in What an Island Knows trace the spiritual journey of a family of summer people on Chebeague Island, Maine. In the Abenaki language, Chebeague means “island of many springs”—literally, freshwater springs that nourish life. So too in this book, the narrator (and reader) discover springs that nourish life in the face of conflict and crisis. Such springs include the joys of family and community, the healing power of wild places, the seasonal rhythms of work and rest, and the balance of action and contemplation. As the narrator wrestles with universal questions of vocation, parenting, illness, and loss—seeking wisdom from nature and the ancestors—What an Island Knows poses questions that hover over the twenty-first century: What are our responsibilities to the land and planet? To indigenous people and future generations? How does the local entwine with the global? How do we age with dignity and grace? Can we reclaim the wonder of childhood? What might nature teach us about how to live, and lean into the future with radical hope?

POETRY / General

ISBN: 978-1-962082-25-9 (print; softcover; perfect bound)

LCCN: 2024

152 pages

Author Biography

Alexander Levering Kern is a poet, editor, Quaker educator, university chaplain, and interfaith organizer. His work appears in publications such as Spiritus, About Place Journal, Georgetown Review, Soul-Lit, Spare Change News, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Consequence Online, and in anthologies from Tiferet, Meridian, Pudding House, and Ibbetson Street. He is founding editor of Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality & the Arts [www.pensivejournal.com] based at Northeastern University, where he also serves as Executive Director of the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service. Editor of the anthology Becoming Fire: Spiritual Writing from Rising Generations, Kern has served and learned alongside communities around the world, including post-earthquake Haiti; post-apartheid South Africa; northern Nigeria; the Middle East; rural Honduras; Hiroshima; Brazil; Ferguson, Missouri; and the Arizona-Mexico borderlands. His family makes their home in Somerville, Massachusetts, and Chebeague Island, Maine, homelands of the Massachusett, Pawtucket, Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Wabanaki peoples.

Endorsements

“There is so much to celebrate in Alexander Levering Kern’s new collection! (Because I don’t know where else to say this, so here I’ll urge you to read “After Fourteen Years,” as beautiful an elegy as any you’ll see). The book itself is celebratory, especially of the miracle of family life, always rendered with a flawless eye for detail: back at their summer retreat in coastal Maine, say, he notes ‘the clicking of Legos / on the hardwood floor / as our children create a new world.’ “But although Kern is ever grateful for his blessings, what crucially ballasts What an Island Knows is its awareness of those who cannot celebrate, of ‘a gasping world, survivors of war, / caravans of children, the widow, the orphan / . . .  a lone refugee climbing parched gullies / knocking on our door at night.’ To me, important poetry always illustrates human maturity. Look at this wonderful collection. In its case, at least, you may well agree.”
Sydney Lea, former Poet Laureate of Vermont; Pulitzer Prize finalist; and founding editor of New England Review


“This gorgeous new book from Alexander Levering Kern stuns with its illumination of both the natural beauty of an island off Maine and the days of a family’s summer stays there. We watch as children grow and parents age, each moment savored and beheld with love and a ‘certain species of mercy.’ From past wars to present ones, from brand-new parenthood to the hard losses life brings, Kern never fails to ‘gaze into the heart of things.’ Grandparents and earlier days in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Indigenous peoples who lived on this island, its current-day elders and dogs, church choirs and black-eyed Susans—the poet lets them all speak. Reading these poems feels like the joy of intimacy, of gazing into a human heart always tilting toward true north and the eternal Beloved.” —Donna Baier Stein, award-winning author and founder/publisher of Tiferet Journal


What an Island Knows is a beautiful love poem to a place—its myths and rhythms, histories and timelessness. Alexander Levering Kern takes us on a pilgrimage to his beloved Chebeague Island in Maine, sharing poem postcards filled with reverence for the ocean, its creatures, and tides. In these poems we encounter luna moths, fireflies, and the music of the Beatles. Here we meet Kern’s Quaker ancestors and honor the footsteps of the Wabanaki people. ‘We are ritual people,’ the poet tells us, all the while inhabiting memory and rituals of belonging and homecoming. This enchanting book fills us with the motion of the tides, the birth of children, and the insistent call of summer. The ‘ocean of memory’ is at once filled with song and the memory of those departed. The poet inhabits his love of the world yet is conscious of its dangers and damage. Kern leads us home to a gentle silence, until we come close to the Divine and ‘rise into (our) own liberation.’”
Deborah Leipziger, poet and author of Story & Bone


“In What an Island Knows, Alexander Levering Kern offers a memoir through place and family: a young man falls in love, builds a life, has children, grows older, and returns each summer to the same setting—Chebeague Island, Maine. Here, the landscape grounds us in wonderful particulars—weather, vegetation, children’s games, webs of generations. The poems of fatherhood are especially moving. With his keen eye, Kern notes the way these particulars connect present to past and future, peace to war, growth to decline. ‘Oh giver of water, giver of life, / teach us to pray / in streams of mercy for the news before us: / a gasping world, survivors of war, / caravans of children, the widow, the orphan, / the sign of coyote, the one who can’t breathe,’ Kern writes. But if the poems are always aware of suffering, they return again and again to prayer, hope, and a celebration of the dance of language and time: ‘Why not teach the shadows to dance? / Why not simply sit and watch / the island roses begin to bloom?’”
Nadia Colburn, PhD, poet, author of I Say the Sky, and founder of Align Your Story Writing School


“Self-reflection, identity, heritage, fatherhood, family, friends, faith, and music—Alexander Levering Kern’s debut collection of poems, What an Island Knows, is a love story of language and experiences. In ‘Soundings from Chebeague,’ readers are asked, ‘If an island could speak, what might it say / and if listening, what might we hear?’ The answer—it seems to me—after beachcombing every beautifully measured stanza in this book, is wind, saltwater, and poetry. Here, in these pages, Kern taps into a universal truth: life is a sacred journey.”
Gary Rainford, poet, author of Adrift, and editor-in-chief of The Island Reader


“Maine’s year-round island communities are an endangered species. In 1900 more than 300 island hamlets dotted the coast of Maine, but today only 15 remain. Through his poetry, Alexander Levering Kern describes the importance of family, ritual, and renewal, which helps to explain why an island like Chebeague flourishes while others fade away. The poems remind us of the importance of finding the present in the past and the past in the present, as we look to the future. After reading Alex’s book, I realized that it is this sense of place that has rooted my family to Chebeague Island for more than 250 years.”
Donna Miller Damon, former curator of the Chebeague Island Historical Society and Museum, freelance author, contributor to Working Waterfront, former educator, and eighth-generation Chebeague islander


“‘If once you have slept on an island / you’ll never be quite the same,’ so wrote poet and novelist Rachel Field almost one hundred years ago. Well, I have slept on an island, Great Chebeague Island, in fact, the setting of Alexander Levering Kern’s What an Island Knows. Indeed, in just a couple of months, Mhairi, my wife, and I will haul our suitcases, bags, and assorted boxes and cartons on and off the shuttle bus, along the weary dock, and down the steep gangway to board the ferry, Independence, and launch our fifty-fifth summer on that enchanted island.

“Yesterday, however, immersed in Alex’s magical book of spells, it was as if I had never left the place. In scene after scene, moment upon moment—the shore, the woods, the velvet night sky, yes, even the luna moths and mosquitos—I was transported into an alternate reality without the need for any technological device at all. I knew once again the peace, the beauty, the sheer blessing of this ‘demi-paradise,’ this ‘precious stone set in the silver sea’—Chebeague. I thank Alex, and all the powers that be, for at least one afternoon—still held within Maine’s long and lingering winter—redeemed, lost and then found again along the rocky strands, the wandering paths and roads, the scented woodland trails, the creaking, comforting old cottages of our cherished Island of Many Springs.”
J. Barrie Shepherd, poet, author, and retired Presbyterian minister


“Just what is it about Chebeague Island that captivates the heart? Just what is it that brings the devoted back summer after summer? What brings a ready smile to the lips of the year-round Chebeaguers when asked, ‘What do you think makes Chebeague a treasured isle?’ Many have tried to offer answers. Now I recommend that the reader settle down with Alex’s poems. This is a wonderfully eclectic mix, and they are bound to resonate. Why do we love that special place? Kern’s poems offer glimpses that satisfy.”
—Andrew Phillips Grannell, author of A Lifetime of Good Beginnings: Stories Exploring Promise and former Dean of the Earlham School of Religio

Articles and Reviews

 

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