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Above the Birch Line

Pia Taavila-Borsheim

September 2021

Table of contents
  $19.95 (t) paperback, ebook

Above the Birch Line reflects a lifetime of observation and experience, and offers glimpses of the loves, aches, and comforts that have accompanied author Pia Taavila-Borsheim along the way. Written primarily in free verse, the poems are imagistic in nature, with an ongoing metaphor of visual representations of nature, especially water. Starting with her childhood and continuing through late adulthood, Taavila-Borsheim ruminates on her parents, travels, marriage, motherhood, and finally, aging and death.

Praise for Above the Birch Line

“This book is a life-long journey that begins, beautifully, with the request for a private existence (‘Sometimes I want a life unseen, above the bookstore’); it asks for the life of attentiveness, a life of detail (‘A small life, such as the one in which stew / bubbles on the stove and there is a wooden table / set with two bowls, two spoons, two mugs for milk / and thick napkins, white and folded. Bread bakes / while steam from the kettle clouds my glasses.’). It is these details that give the poems their power, their imagistic depth and sweep. The poet does a beautiful job giving us the intimacy of perspective, the clarity of view, especially in the poems that look back, that deal with memory in poems that are narrative, but not prosy, lyrical but not needlessly inaccessible. There is a clear emotion running through these pages and the reader can relate to the voice of these poems. There is also a beautiful economy of language in this book. The tension between what is said and unsaid is beautifully balanced.”

—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic

“Pia Taavila-Borsheim’s Above the Birch Line invokes a rich, resonant past through the clear-eyed and compassionate lens of present wisdom. From the silences of Deaf parents whose sign language speaks volumes, to the tranquil summer days of Michigan rivers, outboard motors, and hours lost to ‘the lapping waves crowding one upon the other,’ Taavila-Borsheim writes with a sure touch and an inclusive vision. She is the mother who bids a literal ‘fare well’ to the adult children who have left home for the wider world, and she is the poet who wryly recalls former loves while vividly chronicling travels to Colorado, Key West, Italy, and Mangalore ‘where, in moonlight, / musicians finger tablas, harmoniums, / singing and moaning to ancient ghazals.’ Above the Birch Line offers poems that are literal ‘passages’—both journey and revelation—and those who join this singular voyage will find themselves fortunate, indeed.”

—Ned Balbo, author of The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots

“The poems in Above the Birch Line are a harvest of arresting detail, entrancing musicality, and consistently evocative narrative. You’ll find your eyes, ears, and heart revisiting (and marveling at) each line, image, and stanza the way one pores over, say, a score by Claude Debussy. Pia Taavila-Borsheim’s work honors her path, but she also takes us along on these vivid recollections. Lucky, lucky us.”

—Reuben Jackson, author of Scattered Clouds

“Pia Taavila-Borsheim’s Above the Birch Line is part poetic autobiography, part prayer book: a celebration of life in all its complicated beauty and a call for communion with the natural world. But it’s also a guidebook—in sections moving from Notes from Childhood to Notes toward Death, with important stops in between—to a lifelong journey of discovery. These poems offer us a careful contemplation of ‘matters of heart and hand’ from a sharp-eyed poet ready to capture each moment of wonder, fleeting as ‘the flash of a cardinal’s red wing / in a snowy forest.’”

—Matthew Thorburn, author of The Grace of Distance

“Haunting, aromatic, and atmospheric, Pia Taavila-Borsheim’s poems reveal a coming to terms with the order and disorder of life and nature. At once panoramic and microscopic, they are moving and cinematic, shifting focus between details faraway and up close.”

—Willy Conley, author of Listening through the Bone

“With imagistic precision and a rare generosity of spirit, Above the Birch Line confronts the sweep of a life—its joys and hungers and sorrows—while relishing the tiny details that somehow make all the difference: ‘Pecans on waffles. / Purple lantana. Frothy ferns. / Dew glistens on coquina walls.’ I was especially moved by this book’s daring meditations on old age: the contradictory salve and stab of memory during ‘this time of too much time’ and yet the unexpected sweetness near the end.”

—Anders Carlson-Wee, author of The Low Passions

“These poems are infected by—full of—water in all its guises. And this—the presence in nearly every poem of rain, snow, bays, creeks, clouds, huge lakes, rills on glass—is also Above the Birch Line’s extraordinary strength. There is a clarity, a fluidity to these poems, a grace of registers from the very small to large, from childhood past old age, from early desire to late. And the poems hold within themselves a quiet urgency—to say a life, but a life in its various contexts and containers, a life deeply connected with the world. It is also a book of real, quiet, and, in its own way, ferocious maturity.”

—Leslie Harrison, author of The Book of Endings

Pia Taavila-Borsheim is a retired professor of literature and creative writing at Gallaudet University.

ISBN 978-1-944838-89-8
96 pages. 5½ x 8½.
$19.95 (t)

ISBN 978-1-944838-90-4