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Taking inspiration from medieval sea charts—portulans—the poems in Jason Sommer’s collection bring a fresh variation to the ancient metaphor of life as a journey. Creating a coordinate system charting paths between ports and the dangers that surrounded them, portulans offered webs of routes and images through which sailors could navigate. These maps—both accurate and beautifully illustrated—guided mariners from port to port weaving paths at the threshold of the open sea. Similarly, the course of these poems navigates familiar mysteries and perennial questions through times of unbelief, asking whether consciousness is anchored in the transcendent, if inward travel can descend past the self, and if the universe can be accounted for by physics alone.
Is there more to the story that you remember and hesitate
to say? Your eyes, though, scanning upward in their sockets,
do seem to search memory, but for what may be gone already,
gone to where it goes—wherever it came from—gone as can be imagined,
down into things, in past flesh and bark, marrow and pith, and down,
down into molecule, atom, particle, vanishing into theory.
Through this collection, Sommer takes us to the ocean floor, into the basement, out the front door, through multiverses, and in and out of dreams. Along the way, he considers whether art—the beauty of the map—can provide momentary meaning against a backdrop of oblivion. Drawing on history and myth, the voices in these poems consider what can and cannot be known of the self and the other, of our values, and of what we insist has permanence. These are poems of searching. Like ancient cartographers who lent lavish decoration to their maps, the poems in Portulans illuminate possibilities of beauty in each journey. 

80 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2021

Phoenix Poets



“The beauty of Portulans comes not only from Sommer’s formal gracefulness, but also from his matching that virtuosity with mortal stakes. Poems like ‘Incident at the Mother’s,’ ‘Attention,’ and ‘Billy’s Facts of Life’ reveal narrative skill and unsentimental depth of sympathy that little contemporary fiction can equal, while ‘Multiverse’ and ‘In the Basement Is the Previous Culture’ display Sommer’s sheer capacity of imagination. Open to spontaneity while masterfully carved, these poems are alive to our moment, which they will outlast.”

Peter Campion, author of One Summer Evening at the Falls

“‘There are no words / beneath the shape of things,’ Sommer concedes, but his poems almost make one believe that there could be. With the care and precision of a navigator trying to discern paths that won’t simply circle back, he bypasses metaphors gone wrong, riding a syntax supple enough to hold the music of the ‘the mind’s buoyant gravities.’ The many kinds of rhymes in this collection are invitations to listen closely to the layers of history and myth that hum beneath thinking. ‘It’s inner space he’s after,’ and he takes us there.”

Mary Szybist, author of Incarnadine

"Sommer explores the internal depths of consciousness with a sly precision that is unsettling and revelatory. Quietly but restlessly, the poems capture fragile analogies for consciousness only for consciousness then to abrade these braided likenesses, to dissolve them, and so the journey begins again, the detritus of analogy left behind like a recursive trail of ruined monuments, markers in a portulan."

Public Books

Table of Contents



The Expedition

The Most I Took Back from a Dream

In the Basement Is the Previous Culture


Changing the Script

Wakened to a Certain Knowledge of a Limited Kind


Incident at the Mother’s

Four Photos and Brief Case Report from the Journal Surgery

In the Moment before the Call Drops

In Their Nature: A Trio of Neighbors in a Sidewalk Chat

Children Wearing My Shoes

He Thinks

To Myself in the Coming Time

Billy’s Facts of Life

At the Friends of the Library Local Authors Event

Lot’s Daughters

The Old Art

Apollo Takes the Trophy of Marsyas

L. Receives Honorable Mention in Late Middle Age

What Men Want



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