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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

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

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Bastard Children of Dharma Bums by Joshua Michael Stewart is a book of poems in two distinct parts. The first part is a series of thirty-four “sculped” poems. The author explains these are erasure poems without the erased lines, using Kerouac’s novel, The Dharma Bums. Stewart has chosen and crafted the words to make surprising imagery and beautiful poems, which stand well together and on their own. I enjoyed his delightful use of verbs, such as “jump a bottle of wine,” “surf the mountain” and “spend the warmth of God.” Some of these poems are rich with language, some are more sparse. #26 reminds me of early James Wright with, “A mischievous boy, I tried to talk / to the fancy ladies in lawn hats. / Having to smile real nice, I felt / like a dead crow.” I like the changeup of forms in both parts, from more modern/concrete work that creatively uses white space on the page, to golden shovels, to more traditionally lineated poems. In the second section of the book, entitled “The Hardest Path,” there is a strong influence of Japanese form. “Nature Lesson” and “Shelburne Fire Tower” are basically series of haibun. Several poems have a Kerouacian use of extended haiku. This is Stewart’s second book, and well worth adding to any quality poetry collection.

—Lori Desrosiers, author of Keeping Planes in the Air and other books from Salmon Poetry

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Chapbooks

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