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Breathing Lessons

poems by Susan A. Jefts

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The poems by Susan Jefts in Breathing Lessons are ones of place and spirit, journeying through diverse landscapes full of their own language, music, and agency. A Japanese garden, an Adirondack peak, the view from a train along the Hudson River—in all of these places are distinct images and sensations, but also something else: a presence that feels deep and endless. It might live on a vine in “autumn’s half-born light” or in the moan of a cello in April, rising over the city “like a dark bird in flight.” And when such moments merge with the author’s more human world, small spaces or bardos can form, making an opening for something new to come through, for something  just beyond the apparent to be let in. Some of these poems enter that realm of true meeting and possibility, while others stay at the threshold looking in, and both are compelling places to be. 

POETRY / General

ISBN: 978-1-962082-04-4 (print; softcover; perfect bound)

LCCN: 2023946666

Released September 2023

72 pages

Author Biography

Susan A. Jefts returned in 2021 to the southern Adirondacks to build a home on family forest land overlooking Lake George, after spending several years in Middlebury, Vermont, and Saratoga Springs, New York. She leads groups using poetry to explore what we find meaningful and sacred in our lives and to deepen our felt connections to the vital world of forests, mountains, and water bodies. She offers these experiences in New York as well as Vermont, where she still spends time. In addition to writing, she works as a manuscript editor, facilitator of writing workshops, and poetry columnist. Her work has been published in many anthologies and journals including A Slant of Light, Birchsong II, Quiet Diamonds, Poems in the Time of Covid, Plant-Human Quarterly, BlueStone Review, Blue Line Literary Magazine, Parnassus, Big City Lit, Best of Burlington Writers, The Gardan Journal, Zig Zag Magazine, and Fired Up, among others. For more information, please visit Susan's website:

photo: Debra James


“There is a quiet certainty here that reminds me of some of my favorite writers, especially Mary Oliver and Lucille Clifton. It is easy to be in Susan Jefts’s gently meditative poems, not just as a reader but as a fellow observer. The natural world is more than just a setting or a backdrop, but a felt presence. Breathing Lessons is a book to experience as much as read. You’ll savor the journeys on which it takes you.”
Joseph Bruchac, author of Voices of the People, a collection of biographical poems about notable Native people, with original full color art

“These wise, musical poems with their skillful rhymes and chanting repetitions offer a wonderful lesson in mindful meditation: embodying mono-no-a-wabi in their appreciation and acceptance that everything is ephemeral. The speaker breathes symbiotically with everything present, finding solace from ‘the loneliness of a body leaving,’ in the ‘Breath of being, breath of becoming,’ in joy that asks us to ‘Come dance until you can’t./ Dance despite winter, despots, greed,/ and losses you never imagined,’ in joy as our birthright.”
April Ossmann, author of Event Boundaries

“A remarkable collection of poems, compelling and deeply felt, unified by the essential rhythm of breath.  You’ll want to read these poems over and over. Susan Jefts’s poems are deeply rooted in the earth—witness to the mystery and the wonder.  She glorifies the natural world as she takes it in and breathes it out, changed, elaborated, celebrated. Jefts touches life’s grace, eloquence, and mystery like a relative in a complex, but ultimately beautiful family.”
Jack Mayer, author of Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project, Before the Court of Heaven, Poems from the Wilderness, and Entanglements: Physics, Love, and Wilderness Dreams

“These poems of receptive presentness under ever-shifting skies convey the twin gifts of intense sensory pleasure and a quiet spirit. One slow exhalation after another, Susan Jefts rediscovers herself on the earth. Each moment encountered here, whether beside a frosty meander of the Hudson or on a Vermont hillside, is a bardo through which life flows in losing and renewing itself.”
John Elder, author of Imagining the Earth and Reading the Mountains of Home, former professor at Middlebury College and the Bread Loaf School of English

Articles and Reviews


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