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There is elemental life in these poems, intimate moments when it seems our remove from the natural world — fatal to it — can be bridged. It is the poetry of that connection in daily life and the imagination. The great rivers flood, a blue wasp sails elegantly through the house. Suddenly a copperhead lies snake-thick across the hiker’s trail. 


In Drinking the River, David Polk has turned the landscape and waterways of West Kentucky into elegant music. The tone of these poems is distinctive — cool, intense, calm. I feel I’m seeing familiar sights—trumpet vines, deer, crows, squirrels—for the first time. Polk is a river guide leading us on a wondrous journey.

—Bobbie Ann Mason, fiction writer and memoirist 

The poems condense the beautiful complexity of the daily round. To me they are facts of nature, like a tree or a river. Without sentimentality or excess, these poems convince us the earth and the humans who live on it are worth our attention and care. 

—James Cummins, poet and curator of the Elliston Collection of Poetry 

These fine and reflective poems occur at a threshold between the semi-rural surroundings of his hometown, on the Ohio, a mile wide at this juncture, and a mind at once local and transcendent in its reach. Made up of descriptive elegance and meditative strength, Polk’s work follows a compass of its own, virtually untouched by the vogues of the poetry world. A separate river that has run a long way underground surfaces in this rich book. 

—William Benton, poet and novelist 

About the Author

David Polk grew up beside the Ohio River—at the mouth of the Tennessee — where he lives now. He studied with Wendell Berry and Guy Davenport at the University of Kentucky, and has an M.F.A. from the writing program at San Francisco State University. He has taught writing and literature at many schools including the University of Cincinnati, Eastern Kentucky University, Portland Art Museum School, and served as curator of the Elliston Collection of Poetry. His work has appeared in the Paris Review, Cincinnati Poetry Review, and Epoch among others. The author of four books of military history, he has reviewed books and art for the Louisville Courier-Journal and other papers. He lived for years in the Shawnee Forest and at the mouth of the Cumberland River.