Pennsylvania Furnace, Julie Swarstad Johnson’s debut book of poems, inhabits layers of landscape, history, and belief—the contours of home. In these poems, voices from nineteenth-century iron making communities appear alongside a present-day speaker’s investigations of urban sprawl and industry in Arizona, revealing the ways our environments shape our collective, familial, and individual selves. “Tell me about your thirst,” one speaker asks; the poems in Pennsylvania Furnace trace the lines of longing that root us, in place and in memory.
Available for purchase from Unicorn Press
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“In poems quietly fierce, meticulously observed, faithfully rendered, musically tempered; in the uncanny ability to evoke both the presence of the past, its once molten iron, and its abandonment by time, Julie Swarstad Johnson raises a ‘host of silent voices praising every shadow.’ In these graceful poems, Claudia Emerson has found an heir. Pennsylvania Furnace is fired by the haunting beauty and revelation of its resonant images, ‘finding use / not in the thing itself, but in what / it opened...’” —ELEANOR WILNER
“As Julie Swarstad Johnson journeys east from present-day Arizona, her poems travel both geography and time, arriving in a pre-Civil War Pennsylvania crowded with steel mills and ironworks. There, other voices rise up to join hers, allowing the poet to plumb experiences beyond those of her singular self—a woodcutter struggling to support her family cord by cord, an ironmaster’s daughter trading the fetters of her father for those of a husband. Built on careful research and evocative place-based observations, Pennsylvania Furnace is a book of incandescent intelligence that searches and burns bright as the sunshot furnace of the desert, as the smelter’s molten ore.” —JESSICA JACOBS