Minutes and hours become office workers and scoundrels in a prize-winning poetry collection by Jackie Craven.

Book cover with detailed painting of watch, newspaper clipping, and broken eggs


WHISH ! The title suggests speed and longing. Alternating between surreal prose blocks and lyric verse, Jackie Craven imagines hours, minutes, and seconds as quirky human characters —  secretaries, bookkeepers, and an array of scoundrels. Noon stalls in the center of Erie Boulevard, 5:15 paces hospital corridors, and a wistful narrator speeds along a “quantum highway” where memory and loss plume into stained glass light.

Poems in WHISH are adapted from work that originally appeared in AGNI, PLOUGHSHARES, NEW OHIO REVIEW, and other journals.

  • ISBN: 978-1-950413-78-2
  • 74 pages | 9 x 6 softcover
  • April 2024

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Praise for WHISH

“With Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Star Trek as her muses, Jackie Craven subverts time in WHISH. Employing prose poems, a sonnet in block form, haibun, and lineated verse, she compresses and bends hours and decades and centuries into whizzing, neo-surreal gestures. Anesthesia, death, young love, and infidelity all are destabilized as the speaker looks forward and backwards, as clocks continue to look at the speaker and us.  WHISH is a triumph of a book!  Jackie Craven has a wholly original voice.” —DENISE DUHAMEL, author of Second Story

WHISH is a perfect title for these poems that crackle with energy and insight as they explore how time shapes our lives.  Time isn’t an abstraction here, or an arrow, the poems insist, and summon up the several worlds we live in at once—past, present, and future.  Living and dead intermingle, people weave and revise the stories of their lives as if they had all the time in the world—even though the clock is ticking.  These poems are brilliant: full of light, sharp and clear in tone. They illuminate what it is to be mortal.” —SHARON BRYAN, author of Sharp Stars

“These experimental prose poems and hybrid pieces obsess about the ephemeral nature of time—a Kafkaesque portrait of existence—surreal and strange like Dali’s melting clocks. Craven skillfully paints a manic world full of stark and haunting images with an existential echo, always dissecting and magnifying the mundane. If you love the surreal, the experimental, the philosophical, this book of prose poems is for you! Bravo, well done, poet!” —JOSE HERNANDEZ DIAZ, author of The Fire Eater and Bad Mexican, Bad American

“It’s rare to find such perfect prose poetry. Jackie Craven’s abrupt swerves and disruptive metaphors drop readers off cliffs, repeatedly.” —TOM LOMBARDO, Series Editor

WHISH BOOK TOUR — Readings & Signings



Request a review copy: WHISH@jackiecraven.com

Q & A with Jackie Craven 

How did you choose the title “WHISH“?

The word “whish” describes a rushing sound, a whoosh of air suggesting speed. But it’s easy to mistake “whish” for “wish,” an expression of longing. My poems are about the elusive nature of time and the way minutes, hours, and days move all too quickly.  Several years ago, I used the title “Whish” for an individual poem published in Ploughshares. A version of that poem now appears in my book under the heading, “Just for once I want to witness the going away.” 

The poems in WHISH are fantasy, yet the collection begins with epigraphs from Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, and concludes with a bibliography of science references.

No one can see, hear, taste, or touch time. It’s wildly absurd to imagine the whirling hours as characters who can think and feel. Writing WHISH gave me a platform to combine scientific theories with mystery, awe, and a sense of play. In the quantum universe, maybe we are all like Schrödinger’s legendary cat, alive with possibilities even after we are gone. 

Most of the poems in WHISH are formatted as prose blocks, but they are combined with other forms — lyric verse, erasure poems, list poems, and a modified sonnet. What do you feel unites the poems?

Originally I planned a book composed entirely of prose poems with justified margins. I felt the symmetrical, square shape of these poems expressed the entrapment of characters who can exist only in a single moment. But the prose blocks began to feel repetitious. I decided to juxtapose them with other forms to express a range of voices and emotions. For example, poems with erasures and scrambled language echo the narrator’s sense of disorientation.

The cover art is an intricate collage of newspaper clippings, scraps of wood, a pocket watch, broken eggshells, and China birds. Is there a story behind the image?

The cover illustration is a trompe l’oeil painting by my sister, Sharon Craven Kinzer. She died while I was working on WHISH and I wanted to pay tribute to her amazing work. She called this painting “Mass Confusion” to suggest themes of chaos and religious questioning. The strange juxtapositions convey the weirdness and sense of longing I hoped to express in my poems. 

Many of the poems in your collection describe personal losses — parents, sister, a husband. Is WHISH based on your own life?

Readers often assume that poetry is autobiographical, but I can’t say that the any of these poems describe actual events. However, I did try to express emotional truths. When I wrote WHISH, the days appeared especially fragile. In rapid sequence, my parents and sister died. Then came COVID. I looked in a mirror and saw an old woman. Through the poems in WHISH, I searched for new ways to think about memory, loss, and mortality.

Jackie Craven is available for readings, interviews, and classroom visits. Email your request > WHISH@jackiecraven.com

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