The Waiting, Megan Johnson

[$14, University of Iowa Press]



Megan Johnson's poetry is fractured and ingenious, hot and passionate; a poetry of high summer where 'Storm comes. Flash.' Images splinter and light up the page like a lightning storm, with lust and desire running high:


   Summer proximity you should

   have known me.

          ['A little / more']


   The details of trees summer me slow. Green and then shadow, he and I

         ['Why not matter']


   I woke, sticky vowels in my bed

         ['I woke']


It may be the current weather as I read, but I think not. This language crackles and moans, with phrases rubbing up against each other languorously. There are rich prose poems, short lyrics, longer stream-of-consciousness poems [I don't mean to imply they are improvised or not shaped, merely note the way thought is documented], and some sequences. Throughout there is a superb use of lineation and space: space between clauses, phrases, words and thoughts; everything is carefully, but surprisingly, in its place. Look at the beginning of 'Still life with weave':


 Bruised the day myself, no rotten fruit parallel or adjacent.

 Outside, these meticulous woods named hold still flapping and flapping -


 Forget the planted seeds, mistress of the mister latching quietly the back door.

 Honey drip slow are you going is the bottle ovverrun by forgetfulness.


This is rich, sensual, exciting writing. The poem moves across the 'still life' [which isn't at all still] with image, memory and emotion providing the weave, through a world where there are 'many delicious undertakings', toward a rich epiphany of smell, music, desire and flight:


   I shake then stop the window shatter you can smell the peaches pears


   the bed's backbone is awash and cannot reach ground.


Only occasionally do things come adrift. There seems to be a current move in American poetry by younger writers to combine arcaisms and declamation. This knotted tangle is the result:


   Twilight thicket, ye arms are a badass melody

   marking this quicksilver pleasure, wrapped in

   the waves of a sea. I think it screams. But

   sultry, to be honest. [...]



I think it's the tortured words screaming myself - this is pretentious and clumsy writing. Thankfully the rest of 'Rosary', a long poem in several sections, moves away from this kind of thing very promptly, perhaps because [as the poems says later] 'When I arrives the song asks to be let out' and Johnson obliges.


Otherwise these poems startle with their new imagery and imagination. This is the final line one of a number of short prose poems gathered together as a group:


   Repeat after me: I will wash the pesticides off strangers who look at me

   with more desire than you.

          ['Why not examine how time does not change much at all']


This the opening line of 'Stage left an umbrella':


   Dark the audience pinned to gravel and crunch


Johnson is one of a number of intriguing poets published by the University of Iowa Press [I'm thinking particularly of Karen Volkman and Larissa Szporluk] who manage to combine the apparently-confessional with the imagistic and lyrical, to engage with both emotion and nature, and who have learnt from the avant-garde poetics of the 70s-90s. They produce new, deeply felt, highly original writing, which gathers up the reader and helps them to see the world anew:


   I have rearranged your eyes into glass pinecones

                        and the murmuring logic and the hay stack sculptures

                                       disintegrating a little more each day with wind -

          ['Rocket grass']


I like Johnson's 'murmuring logic' a lot, and look forward to future installments.


          © Rupert Loydell 2005