Does history live inside of us? Are we capable of transcending the past or are we destined to repeat it? With understated humor and grace, Once, This Forest Belonged to a Storm wrestles with questions of inheritance, spiritual unrest, the integrity of the self, and humanity's relationship to the natural world. Excavating both personal and historical trauma and the rippling effects of the Holocaust, Austen Leah Rose writes of “the silence that follows after silence." The poems in this debut collection map a surreal journey from alienation to belonging, as our speaker floats across the night sky over Los Angeles, communes with Shakespeare in a hotel room, attends a dinner party in outer space, and drifts down a river for fourteen years with her sister.
“With startling ease and quiet artistry, these poems hone in on the heat signatures of cruelty and belonging, memory and creation, belief and unknowing. Immersed both in Jewish mysticism and in the natural world, Rose experiences God’s voice as ‘singing bruises’ and identifies feelings that ‘bypass the brain.’ About a third of the way in, she confides: ‘I don’t know how to write; I only know how to strip back bark to see if I’m still green on the inside.’ Oh, how she does, and is!”—Ellen Doré Watson, author of pray me stay eager
“A work of deeply sensitive intelligence and lucidity, Once, This Forest Belonged to a Storm is an original and beautifully observed book. In this poet’s hands, the precision of life astonishes: Fallen snow is 'lit as if plugged in.' Later, 'fireflies nestled like hot pearls in the grass.' One moment, your attention is caught by the poems’ faithfully calibrated particulars; the next, you find yourself immersed in the strangeness of our most intimate connections and losses. These are searching, clear, wise, and wonderful poems.”—Jenny George, author of The Dream of Reason
“Austen Leah Rose’s Once, This Forest Belonged to a Storm is an extraordinary debut by a complex and radiant sensibility. Filled with both disquiet and a dream-like beauty, these poems reflect the urgent reckonings of a poet recasting her place within the mythic constellation of the family. These exquisite poems resonate with the anxieties of intimacy while echoing always the speaker’s search for a larger cultural history. The vagaries of childhood give way to the powerful transcendence of adult love in an arc of meditations that display the elegance and painterly clarity of Mark Strand’s poetry yet embody Austen Leah Rose’s own subtle intricacy and profoundly individual vision. This is a collection to treasure, celebrate and hold close.”—David St. John, author of The Last Troubadour: New and Selected Poems