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Songs for the Great Horned

poems by Ken Weisner

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This impressive collection offers intimate, intense engagement with the great horned owl and the natural world. By casting every poem in the second person (every “you” is the great horned), the poems necessarily break into lament, rapture, and other rhythms of thought to meet the moment. Each poem is a healing song. Beneath the surface the reader will encounter grief, personal loss, sober reckonings with mankind and history, but also love, fervor, and always awe for this creature.

POETRY / General

ISBN: 978-1-962082-15-0 (print; softcover; perfect bound)

LCCN: 2024930921

Released March 12, 2024 | Copyright 2024

64   pages; 6 full-color images

Author Biography

Ken Weisner attended Oberlin College and the Iowa Writers Workshop before going to University of California, Santa Cruz, for PhD work in literature. He has been teaching writing and literature at De Anza College, Cupertino, California, since the mid-nineties. He is the author of The Sacred Geometry of Pedestrians (2002), Anything on Earth (2010), and Cricket to Star (2019)—all from Hummingbird Press. For many years he edited Quarry West through Porter College at UCSC, and he currently edits and advises the national edition of Red Wheelbarrow through De Anza College. Weisner’s poetry has been widely published in journals and anthologies. His work was featured on the Poets Against the War website (2003), in The Music Lover’s Poetry Anthology (Persea, 2007), and in John Chandler and Wilma Marcus Chandler’s Willing Suspension Armchair Theater production of Lost and Found: The Literature of Fathers and Sons (May, 2009). Garrison Keillor read Weisner’s poem “The Gardener” on The Writer’s Almanac in August of 2010. His work has appeared most recently in Catamaran, Caesura, Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, Nine Mile, Perfume River Poetry Review, Phren-Z, Porter Gulch Review, The Twin Bill, and Xinachtli Journal. 


“In these remarkable prose poems in wonder of and homage to the Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus, Ken Weisner has created a miniature classic. These poems resonate with what Dylan Thomas once phrased as ‘altarwise by owl-light’: hints of a sacred journey toward something miraculous. With assurance and deep feeling, Weisner explores a wide range of context: the personal, the historical, mythical, geological, astronomical, magical, as well as the wondrous, where an owl is ‘as far away as the stones I set on my father’s grave.’ After reading this little book, you will never view owls in the same light; indeed, the poems might lead you on your own journey of wonder.”
Joseph Stroud, author of Of This World, New and Selected Poems and Everything That Rises

“In Songs for the Great Horned, Ken Weisner eludes the old Romantic demand that nature be our savior. Here owls are the owls, awake, on the hunt, falling through air. The wonder in these poems lives on the border between a man’s eyes and the inexpressible glory of living twilight.”
Stephen Kuusisto, author of Only Bread, Only Light; and Planet of the Blind

“Ken Weisner is in awe of the Great Horned Owl—its silent flight, its skill as a hunter, its eerie, deep-throated call—and he addresses every poem in Songs for the Great Horned to the owl, and considers him a confidant and mentor, a sentinel who has seen it all. One might imagine that every poem takes place in the forest and in the dark of night, but Weisner’s Great Horned has been a witness to history, and his presence in the poet’s life is expansive and hardly limited to a region of bosky wilderness. In one poem, Weisner tells the owl, ‘You would love Doris Day,’ and there are cameos here by Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, and Harriet Tubman, among others. This is a book about owls, but also about history and family, about art and music, about loss and the consolations of love.”
Gary Young, author of Even So: New and Selected Poems and American Analects

“In Songs for the Great Horned, Ken Weisner takes us on an unforgettable spiritual journey, a journey of avian, human, and personal memory. A journey of grief and gratitude. The Great Horned, here, is a stand-in for all of us: resourceful yet vulnerable, loved yet not loved, displaced by unprecedented devastation to habitat, confused by the rapidly changing and often hostile world it once could count on. The vivid evocations, power, and sensitivity of Weisner’s poems are transformative, leaving us haunted and humbled, ‘time itself, a whisper to protect us, like sleep.’”
Rose Black, author of Clearing, Winter Light, and Green Field

“Here is a jewel box of owls! Here is a book of second person owl poems—poems in which the you is a strange shape, a meadow sound, a cypher, a memory, the Maquis, Yahweh, snakes, ghosts, the speaker, a grandbaby, two strangers, death, every mystery, ‘time itself.’ The yous in this book sing and swoop and hunt. They devour. They mate for life and feed their young. These yous have horns and talons. They outlive even as they flee and hide. ‘I see we are you,’ the poet writes, and the world in this book is the world I want to live in— strange and dreadful as it is— it still lasts. It has lasted. May it last still. ‘I am sometimes in dread of the sharp little binary of truth,’ the poet writes inside these pages, ‘It cuts and cuts into nothing.’”
Lisa Allen Ortiz, author of Guide to the Exhibit and two chapbooks: Turns Out and Self Portrait of a Clock

Articles and Reviews


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