The Wind Speaks

What would you get if a Taoist monk sat down with Wendell Berry, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Sappho, and G.M. Hopkins to write sonnets that banish conventions of form, structure, & meter, while creating new parameters within which to start, stop, surge, yield, twist, turn, open, close.

These poems beg to be spoken aloud; each finds a singular cadence, tension, perspective, to bring to the natural world fresh and sometimes unusual voices (a poem in the voice of a praying mantis? . . . vulture? . . . whippoorwill?)

Bit by bit, they work from the observed and/or fantasized, to get to the internal, the personal, to a celebratory grief.

Praise for The Wind Speaks, winner of the 2020 Hopper Poetry Prize

“For all the word-islands and phrasal-isthmuses Elsa Johnson charts in The Wind Speaks, she’s a poet who sees nothing of the world in isolation. Her work is not elliptical; it is attentively, vigorously coalescent. Dylan Thomas reckoned that the best craftsmanship ‘always leaves holes or gaps . . . so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in.’ What creeps, crawls, flashes, and thunders in and through these poems is something like Bergson’s élan vital, or the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, or the slow-motion rush of Hopkins’ buckling velocity. It’s luminous and fateful and shadowy as the pull of lunar phases, the ‘tidal blood’ of women. ‘It pauses me’ is the opening line of one poem; at this memorable threshold, Johnson’s aesthetic and ethical commitments come together with shining clarity. Biotic conditions are met with focused, contagious bravery. Nothing is given presence in these poems without revealing deep relationship to something else. A reader finds space and time to know each tether, segue, filament, and ‘taking down.’ When Johnson tells us in her opening poem she will speak ‘with other voices,’ the all-important word is ‘with.’ It is not the ‘with’ of instrumentalization; it is the ‘with’ of loving consultation. There is love abundant in these poems, and dazzling skills to match love’s very steepest demands.” —Sarah Gridley

“Perhaps it is true that the oldest imperative to the poems written in our mother tongue is to praise. Cædmon heard the command, and began his song, a hymn to all creation. The seed of this art unfolds into a next bloom in Elsa Johnson’s The Wind Speaks. She has taken up poetry’s call to praise, to sing lovingly toward what is, but she is wise enough to know that true praise is complicated work. These poems seek ‘love of the deep kind.’ Each poem adheres to a strict formal shape, a square, and so a bedrock, and so the fundamental brick. But cracks run throughout—gaps, lacunae, synapses, blankness, and abyss all reveal the crisis deep love invokes, the tense strain of singing over nothing toward presence. It is as if the force of time what has ravaged Sappho’s poem worked their damage in Whitman’s sprawling song, so these poems arrive to us, speaking with the wind that speaks in them, some pneuma, some spirit or soul, that makes of us its instrument. Elsa Johnson speaks toward us in the voice that speaks through her, a wind that has crossed the ‘wide lapping infinity sea.’” —Dan Beachy-Quick 

The Wind Speaks by Elsa Johnson dazzles with audacity; the poems ‘spread/take up space/crowd/sprawl’ across the page with their field form and deliberate spaces, asking readers to pause and take in the abundant life surrounding us while also considering the poignancy of loss and the mortality of all living things. Beginning with the energetic litany of ‘Testimony,’ each poem explores ‘all   nature’s children/innocents   living obedient to their calling’ with precise observation and intimacy, urging ‘let me be present   Here   :    Let me be    now.’ A collection of poems ‘in love with the world,’ the language here offers visual and sonic landscapes, welcoming us into these sometimes unexpected speakers’ worlds, such as the vulture and lady mantis, while also maintaining a delightful sense of mystery.” —Lisa Kwong

About the Author

Elsa Johnson has spent most of her life living among and appreciating the green verdant hills and valleys, ledges, streams and bogs of northeastern Ohio (last of the Appalachian foothills—a place that unequivocally wants to be a forest). She is a poet, writer, landscape designer, artist, and hands-on environmental sustainability advocate, invasive species warrior, and a passionate volunteer in nearby Forest Hill Park. She lives, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and writes for and co-edits Gardenopolis Cleveland, a blog about everything green in Cleveland.

Winner 2020 Hopper Poetry Prize
90 pages; Softcover   
Trim Size: 5.5 x 8.5 
$14.95 (print)  
ISBN: 978-1-9505840-5-6
Publication Date: September 13, 2022
Distributor: IPG / Chicago
Available via Ingram,
Rights sold: All rights available.
Rights & Publicity contact: Dede Cummings

Keywords: Nature; gardening; women; culture;
landscape gardening; grief, loss; environmental

Distributor: IPG; also available through Ingram, Follett/Baker & Taylor, and other wholesalers.
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