cover image Gatekeeper


Patrick Johnson. Milkweed, $16 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-571-31526-7

In this impressive and formally versatile debut, Johnson places the lyric in dialogue with a host of nonpoetic forms, among them diagrams, numbered lists, and maps. “It’s different in the lab; dissection is bloodless,” he warns early in the collection. Johnson frames beauty and transcendence as a source of authority equal to the language of formal scientific inquiry. “Speak from a place of reversibilities,” he advises, as though describing the poems’ own provocative movements between types of discourse. Johnson’s strength lies in his ability to reflect on his own unexpected juxtapositions and wild associative leaps: “The dream has not only shown me history in reverse but somehow changed it,” he writes. Johnson calls attention to his own agency in inhabiting language, “In this moment I realize I have a level of control,” framing his practice as a poetics of intervention. The work is filled with self-aware poems like this one, which reflect on their own philosophical underpinnings, and Johnson’s formal experimentation compliments the poems, involving and implicating the reader in their critique of linguistic hierarchies. “The individual becomes invisible,” he observes, positioning the reader as collaborator and coconspirator in this thought-provoking collection. (Dec.)