Joshua Michael Stewart first full-length collection of poems, Break Every String, was published by Hedgerow Books in April 2016. He has two chapbooks, Vintage Gray, published by Pudding House Publications in 2007, and Sink Your Teeth into the Light, published by Finishing Line Press in 2012. He has had poems published in the Massachusetts Review, Worcester Review, Euphony, Rattle, Cold Mountain Review, William and Mary Review, Pedestal Magazine, Evansville Review and Blueline.
There’s a fearlessness in Joshua Michael Stewart's collection Break Every String.-- tough, tightly written narratives and monologues about living poor with broken people (some of whom are your closest relatives) in hard times. This heartfelt gritty work reminds me of the hardscrabble accounts of humanity in some of our best poets-- the work of Ai, Bruce Weigel, and Linda McCarriston's landmark book, Eva-Marie. Stewart exercises the courage of truth telling and takes the revenge of real poetic craft. As Bruce Weigel says "Say it clearly and you make it beautiful, no matter what." Or as Stewart says, "Poets are the battered spouses of hope." You can't help but respect the maker of these streamlined vehicles, for his guts and his unsentimental, vivid poems.
-Tony Hoagland, author of Application for Release from the Dream and Donkey Gospel
Joshua Michael Stewart is an American Poet in the very best sense of the word. He is inclusive and generous in his remembered world. He writes of work and family madness with compassion and wit. He avoids the psychological and deals with the existential fact: My generation, we didn't have learning/ disabilities, we just drank home brew,/ and threw knives at each other. You will want to hang out a long time with these wildly talented poems. They are forged out of hard life and inflected with blues.
-Doug Anderson, author of Horse Medicine and Keep Your Head Down
The poems in Break Every String alarm and excite us as they confront both abandonment and faith in language made rich with inventive metaphors, gritty narratives, and slow grooves. In this satisfying first collection, Joshua Michael Stewart gives us the gift of hard-won insight as his speaker survives a childhood of abruptions and absences—a “phone booth / that no longer has a phone.” This work traverses a life of complexities and reconciliations in which often the only stability is the solace of music, allowing the speaker to “buck free / and far from the paddocked mind.” While bidding us to “Rejoice in your scars,” there’s no forced cheer in this book; rather, in Break Every String Stewart discovers and offers comfort with full recognition of its elusive nature, a thing scrabbled toward, delicately clung to. These genuine, deeply moving poems teach us what it is to mediate extremes and contradictions and to risk loving anyway, because, after all, “Fear of death // and the exhilaration of living swap / saliva at the top of a rollercoaster.”
—Rachel Contreni Flynn, author of Tongue and editor of Beloit Poetry Journal
Cover by Bret Herholtz