The Book of the Floating World

SKU: 978-1-60235-013-7

Jon Thompson

Information and Pricing
978-1-60235-013-7 ($16.00; expanded edition, paperback); © 2007 by Parlor Press. 101 pages with photographs and notes

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Reviews of the Original Edition (2004)

Word For/Word: A Journal of New Writing #8 (2005). "The poems in The Book of the Floating World are poems of increasing complexity. That is to say, for me, reading the book twice, three times, ten times, has layered its subject(s) further and further behind the sighting of the opaque lens, while simultaneously bringing more layers to the surface."
— Brandon Shamoda

Octopus Magazine, #4 (Dec. 2004). "The lyrics in this book reward slow and thoughtful re-readings. The photography and poetry are haunting." 
—Marcus Slease

What other people say about The Book of the Floating World . . .

The poems, like their photographs, begin with still objects, with ourselves outside, looking in through time and culture. Suddenly the scenes come alive and we see a surprising compassion and beauty rise up. Each poem holds startling links between the floating samsaric world and a calm inquirer. We are looking at a by-gone Japan; we are looking at our current selves.
— John Balaban, author of Locusts at the Edge of Summer: New and Selected Poems and Spring Essence

If history is the patient work of interpreting those records of the dead that are left to us, Jon Thompson’s searching poems are genuinely historical—acts of listening and looking with a complex, and empathetic, attention. These poems, with their grave cadences and moral clarity, in the end counter the blinding white light of disaster that suffuses them.
— Susan Stewart, author of Columbarium and Poetry and the Fate of the Senses

In The Book of the Floating World, the poet imagines his way into the past, constructing his dead father’s experience of occupation Japan, and at the same time reflecting eloquently on the fallibility of such an endeavor. With his only evidence a group of photographs taken by his father, Thompson moves beyond those particular images to summon up vivid fragments of scenes cradled in the narrator’s subtle, intelligent consciousness. The poems are elegant, elegiac meditations on the nature of personal history and mortality. In the book as a whole, the continuous and arresting conjunctions of past and present give The Book of the Floating World a quality of timelessness.
—Angela Davis-Gardner, author of the novels Felice and Forms of Shelter

Part moral memoir, part imagined life of the father, part imagined history, part solid history, this unusual combination of verbal and visual—of the then seen from the perspective of now—makes a rare and interesting book.
—Betty Adcock, author of The Difficult Wheel and Intervale


Loosely based upon photographs of Occupied Japan, The Book of the Floating World ranges across a war-ravaged landscape, from a shattered Tokyo to scenes of a depleted countryside, with a close examination of the lives constructed out of that ruin. The Book of the Floating World explores the photographed moment—and poetry—as a peculiar and arresting instance of witness. Threaded throughout this collection is a set of interrelated meditations upon history, violence, war, memory, and art itself.

First published in 2004, The Book of the Floating World is offered here in a new expanded edition, complete with all the original photographs of Japan during the American Occupation—the starting point for Jon Thompson’s elegiac poetry. In their clarity and openness, these photographs frame the struggle between old and new identities taking shape in the postwar era. This new edition of The Book of the Floating World represents a ground-breaking collaboration between the visual and the literary in a format that traces the hidden connections between past and present.

About the Author

Jon Thompson is an associate professor of English at North Carolina State University, where he teaches courses in twentieth century literature. In addition to his publications in poetry, he has published Fiction, Crime and Empire (University of Illinois Press, 1993). He also edits Free Verse: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry & Poetics and is the editor of Parlor Press’s poetry series, Free Verse Editions.

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