cover image Watchnight


Cyrée Jarelle Johnson. Nightboat, $17.95 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-64362-194-4

The impressive sophomore collection from Johnson (after the Lambda Award–winning Slingshot) wrestles with history, identity, and belonging in poems that showcase the poet’s formal dexterity and invention. Taking its title from the African American holiday commemorating former slaves’ gathering on New Year’s Eve 1862 to await the official commencement of the Emancipation Proclamation the following day, the volume explores the legacies of an America still struggling to deliver on the promise of liberation. Johnson has a gift for collapsing time through his use of form, as in “Now Let the Weeping Cease,” which is both a sonnet and a duplex (a form invented by poet Jericho Brown) and captures a haunted present: “My death is a shade that hums back at me./ My ghost hums back across time’s night-vast gap.” The bulk of the book is a long, terrifyingly prescient poem in prose blocks that envisions an utterly broken commons: “Each crisis punctuated by a crisis. North Jersey’s factories blank as dead faces. Ports with no dockers. An unshakable aura of shortage and lack. The softest erosions ferried us to this shore. Our we fragmented, atomized, and blown away.” Urgent and wise, these poems look back to envision a precarious future. (Feb.)