Friday, January 16, 2009
What I'm Reading: Red Summer
It's the coldest day of the year here in Little Rock, and I'm poised in front of the space heater with the cat. Yesterday, the copy of Amaud Jamaul Johnson's Red Summer that I'd requested from the library came in. I just read it cover to cover and may now have to buy it. The number of sticky tags marking poems I want to go back to are overwhelming.
Some of you may remember that I blogged about a few of Johnson's poems in December, when I was reading the latest Indiana Review. The book lives up to the new poems Johnson is publishing now. The poems in this book contain images of love and violence, despair and hope, and all of the other pairing of opposites that go with living. Many of the poems are based in the history of racial discord in America (hence the title, referring to the race riots across America in 1919), while others feel intensely personal. Johnson's voice ranges from lyric to narrative and everything in between and projects a confident steadiness. I knew I was in good hands from the first page.
Here are some of my favorites.
From "Chicago Citizen Testifies in His Defense"
"The fate of the rock, like that of the boy,
falls somewhere between gravity and god."
From "On This Side of Mercy" (after Mississippi John Hart)
"When I close my eyes and palm the soundboard,
My fingers make a constellation, and my mind is all about
The last time with my woman; her nails strumming
My ribcage, how her name tastes, hovering in my mouth
Like a circle of smoke. Then the cry I let go, like a bird
Perched on my tongue. Then each chord, a new vein opening.
And then I don't give a damn about nothing anymore."
From "A Fear of Thunder"
"And that cry seemed to claw
From her body, not her throat,
Nor anyplace ever made for singing.
Of this pain, what women
Know, her cry seemed carved
Of muscle and soft bone."