In Full Velvet is Forthcoming from Sarabande Books in February 2017.
In Full Velvet was published by Sarabande Books on February 14, 2017. Currently, you can order it here: Powells, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or order through your local bookstore at IndieBound.
The rigor and formal poise of Jenny Johnson’s work creates an astounding emotional tension. There’s a sinuous, shape-shifting quality to this work that makes her poetic explorations of sex and selfhood all the more resonant. That subtle mastery of line and rhyme is a powerful complement to the poems’ organic commemorating, interrogating, searching. The judges were reminded of the virtuosity that characterizes a master like Elizabeth Bishop; of the profound and active depths, and how her poems ripple with need, and the desire for unity, communion, transformation.
Jenny Johnson is a poet of deep compassion and mesmerizing range. Her work probes the complexities of queer identity and the body, weaving in the unexpected reaches of intimacy and communion found in nature, dreams and lost family histories. The transformative power of community in the face of discrimination and intolerance is also felt throughout much of her work.
Maybe a voice from the ancients whispers to Jenny Johnson—Sappho or the Muse Euterpe—how to sing of love and death and joy and reality in as many registers as they come in life. Or maybe Johnson is just a genius. In either scenario (though the latter seems the obvious one) the pen of this poet flows with hard-won Old Soul ink—blood and tears and juice and kisses. This breathtaking debut is erotic, sublime, dappled and riven with ripe fruit, wild body, and full-on fauna. Lesbian literary history (and the many queer-hearted literatures that keep us alive) has a new chapter here, inscribed In Full Velvet by this magnificently gifted poet.
The sheer joy of Jenny Johnson’s poems finds fuel in the work of poets she loves (Hopkins, William Carlos Williams, Larry Levis), in the wild variety revealed by botany and zoology, in the insights of queer and gender theory, in dyke bars and dancing, and most of all in love and desire — that imperative to which, directly or less so, every other element in this list is in service. When someone writes the history of American poetry in our time, the new energies released among the generation now publishing first books will be unmistakable; Johnson strides into a public space secured for her by Rich and Lorde and a host of others, and makes it brilliantly her own.
Pulsing with a formal brilliance and an idiosyncratic lyricism, these poems counter a poetics of ecological crisis by instead enacting a poetics of a shared world within which the human is one species among the species. They pulse, too, with music and the grace of a world filled with strangeness and ardor. Johnson’s diction, raucous and taut, reminds me that English is among the animal sounds we animals make. Her poems enliven my seeing and my thinking about what a poem might do and what a world might be.
Jenny Johnson describes the awkwardness and pain as well as the incalculable pleasure of living at odds with nature. Defiant, winking, and rippling with laughter, In Full Velvet walks us (in boy jeans) through a queer landscape of acrylic fur, dappled flanks, and antlers hot to the touch. This story of a “heart hunting after a body” does not promise full recovery: even better, it’s an invitation to spend a few hours in the dyke bar at the end of the world.