cover image Pungent dins concentric

Pungent dins concentric

Vanessa Couto Johnson. Tolsun, $14.95 trade paper (82p) ISBN 978-1-948800-06-8

From its synaesthetic title to its closing poem, this complex debut from Johnson shows that surrealism remains alive and swell. The Brazilian-born Texan poet offers a new manifesto—“No need to order, but a desire to, with take out”—and regales readers with puns (“Hippocratic oaf”; “I skid you not”) as well as vertiginous shifts of voice, tone, and register. Postmodern juxtapositions (“Captain Kirk with Plato’s stepchildren”; “A baby in line for a burrito”) and copious parentheticals—”(sp)rang,” “c(lock),” “peri(met)er”—announce that neither rhyme nor reason need apply. Johnson also tells narrative and lyric conventions to take a hike: “We watch Canadian cultists sleeveless undershirted ski-masking with machetes in a forest chasing the coated.” At such moments, one may think of Wallace Stevens’s critique of surrealism, that it invents without discovering. And yet, the charge of frivolity does not stick here. A skin-shedding lizard may be both this book’s totem and a symbolic figure for the reader; when the speaker imagines rearranging a pet gecko’s tank, “She soundlessly scrapes the glass to learn new vertices.” “Walls are made to be stroked,” Johnson reminds readers, as those surfaces are but another locus of bewilderment and discovery: “Laugh until full, until body itself is a world.” (Dec.)