Old Stories

Available for $12 postpaid from Jo Kirkwood, PO Box 570207, Sigurd, Utah 84657

It's possible to imagine many of the poems in Utahan Jo Lynne Kirkwood's collection, Old Stories, inhabiting the intriguing house on the book's striking cover.  With her rare talent she builds quiet yet captivating poems.  Strong underlying structures give way to masterful expressions and explorations of place and character.  She draws you deeply into the stories with their complexity of humor, longing, truth, pain, warmth, beauty, plain talk, hope, the bittersweet, and more.

Poems are divided into sections, "The Voices of Women," "A Rancher's Life," "Tales from the Coffee Shop," and "Other Voices, Other Seasons." The first three are populated by cowboys and their wives, ranchers and ranch wives, old men, colorful characters, and children both innocent and cruel. There are bread makers, wranglers, fighters, old hands, gamblers, quilters, critters, worriers, seekers, and dreamers.

The poems in the final chapter, "Other Voices, Other Seasons," sometimes step beyond her rural Western landscape and veer into other, less tangible worlds. They are among the most skillful poems. Some are crafted of more abstract observations, the meaningful sort that lead to pondering, as lines by Emily Dickinson might. Some are haunting, in the real-life sense. Here her words often sing in ways that are as impressive as in her character ballads.

This first, long-awaited collection is well done in every way: poem selection, organization, and layout. It is spare and uncluttered, as a scrubbed table inside that cover house might be, one that has seen a lot of life, both the tough times and the good times. And that's just what you want: nothing between you and the vividly observed lives and places that she offers. Jo Lynne Kirkwood's work as a teacher comes through in these poems; she is also a teacher of life, and readers will be edified, their own lives enriched by experiencing her words.

Margo Metegrano, Editor, CowboyPoetry.Com

The stories evolve with clarity and wisdom, with precise expressions of character and feeling. People have been either well imagined or closely observed. It doesn't matter; they appear as true as photographs, men and women alike. They are delightfully diverse. Mysteries, politics, hilarity, pain, musings on Fate, and sometimes a complicated underlying and understated theme of a woman's place may find their way into these poems. The first chapters are filled with what are ballads of the denizens of rural America. It is no surprise that Jo Lynne Kirkwood is also a songwriter with a number of works recorded by others. She often honors tradition as she creates these tales.