cover image In Full Velvet

In Full Velvet

Jenny Johnson. Sarabande, $16.95 (72p) ISBN 978-1-941411-37-7

In this stunningly lyrical debut, Johnson probes issues of queer culture and love from an array of existential perspectives, creating a melodic and thought-provoking symphony on queer identity. This enchanting display features gay bonobos; “a streaming metropolis of// masculinities vested in/ tweed, plaid, velvet, seersucker”; and nods to the queer literary canon, such as references to The Price of Salt, Elizabeth Bishop, and Gertrude Stein. A friend performing karaoke is described as “gleaming like a gem on Liberace’s finger.” In “In the Dream,” Johnson powerfully captures the psychic scars that manifest from living in a homophobic culture, while celebrating the spirit of community that flourishes only among the persecuted. In “Aria,” she crafts a sonnet crown about music, gender, solidarity, and suffering that is almost impossibly elegant. Johnson is a romantic, and she exhibits this without a hint of self-consciousness, declaring “I long to be leaf-whelmed,/ lit by fire pinks and wild sweet Williams,” or even more ornately, describing how the “lanceolate leaves/ of the flame azaleas along/ the shoreline shiver in the/ wind.” At one moment, Johnson muses on the potential pleasure of having a tail, romping “in a midnight alley, flashing my snowy underside like a switchblade.” The metaphor perfectly epitomizes the beauty of this miniature opus, alternately joyful and heartrending, achingly bittersweet. (Feb.)