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In this debut poetry collection, a single speaker tries to control her body and negotiate her time with digital devices, all the while navigating identities, impulses, and relationships that are often in tension.
Metabolics, a book-length poem, borrows the movements of metabolic pathways to consider how nature accomplishes both balance and deep transformation. In visual figures and prose blocks that bridge the divide between poetry and nonfiction, Jessica E. Johnson employs scientific idioms to construct an allegory about a family in the Pacific Northwest. The region becomes a character in its own right, with cedars, moss, and heavy cloud knitting the mother, father, boy, and girl into their setting.
This far-reaching volume also serves as a study of the ecologies of contemporary parenting, with adults and children affected by “feeds” both on screen and off as their bodies metabolize food, the environment, and excess feelings such as rage. From climate change to kombucha to smartphones and curated produce, the smallest details of daily life in “Plasticland” catalyze a larger examination of selfhood: “Despite so many attempts to resolve this tension, sometimes you are you and also sometimes mother just as light can be both particle and wave.”
About the Author
Jessica E. Johnson writes poetry, nonfiction, and things in between. Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in the Paris Review, Harvard Review, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, River Teeth, and Tin House, among others. Her chapbook In Absolutes We Seek Each Other was an Oregon Book Award finalist. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
“Capturing the ephemeral ways in which one is strange to oneself—the edges of self, of forests, of spaces, of existence entangled with the limitation of the shapes of things, this book, full of multi-species encounters, enacts the discontinuous and porous nature of selfhood and of being more than what can be contained within the confines of a body. With a keen perception and a lyricism that penetrates like light, Metabolics is a collection that will possess you.” — Janice Lee, author of 'Separation Anxiety' and 'Imagine a Death'
“Johnson metabolizes the strange rituals of daily life into poetic language. With a ‘vast, provisional body,’ she moves between the home and the world, touching and consuming the real (plastic, cats, trees, devices) and the virtual (the internet, social networks, texts) in entangled ‘cycles within cycles.’ Once you enter this book, it too will consume your attention. It will eat your imagination until you become ‘something more than you imagined.’” — Craig Santos Perez, author of 'Habitat Threshold'
“Metabolics is a song for our times where ‘the car consumes refined bones’ and the speaker’s ‘energy is taken up. . . by the emotional exoskeleton of text threads with their fibrous connection to all your feelings.’ Metabolics pinpoints the environmental conditions of late capitalism where the ‘wonderland sky’ is threatened by ‘the understory tinder quick to catch,’ and ‘the trees said nothing so the children screamed their songs.’ What does it mean to mother now? To teach? To live in a body at the edge of a forest that is ready to burn? Each prose poem in Metabolics is a window into these questions, and yet each poem captures much more than a moment in time. Johnson’s poetics requires us to confront our troubled present, regard the ‘chemical conspiracy between trees. . . bodies listening to bodies.’ What a marvelous book.” — Tyler Mills, author of 'Hawk Parable'
“‘Herein to hold my dailiness I have borrowed the language of certainty.’ Johnson’s Metabolics transports the reader into a twining, double helix of ‘job and sweat and screen time and so many kinds of holding,’ entangling threads of motherhood, organic growth and decay, digital overload, anthropogenic awareness, and the body’s own softening with keen critique and powerful bafflement. Like mycorrhizal fungi, each strand and each poem feeds every other, creating a stronger, larger, more mysterious whole. Johnson’s voice is both detached and interior, plainspoken and strange-syntaxed; at times I was reminded of Eavan Boland’s attention to the domestic, at times of C. D. Wright’s haunting journeys through scientific/historic fact. In the end, though, Metabolics is utterly its own unique experience, one that will leave the reader inspired to re-examine and re-engage the deep strangeness of our daily lives. I am so grateful to have read this book.” — Elizabeth Bradfield, author of 'Toward Antarctica' and 'Theorem'
“These poems do just what we hope poems will do: they wake us up to our lives. Clear-eyed, they trace in loving micro-attention how the day happens in our bodies, our minds, our devices, our plastics, our politics, our dreams. They are about mothering, and they are about mothering attentiveness. Through such care, language transforms into ‘CO2 wafting into an open leaf pore,’ and we breathe again.” — Eleni Sikelianos, author of 'Your Kingdom'
"Metabolic, a gripping, felt collection littered with beautiful phrasings and insights, is grounded in those quiet, wordless moments of satiety that take us by surprise and keep us rooted to the world and to ourselves. . ." — Mom Egg Review
"The domestic is both glorified and made strange in Jessica E. Johnson’s Metabolics. This hybrid book-length poem of twelve connected pieces is attuned to language and image in a way that provides a unique portrait of family and environment (specifically the Pacific Northwest) as the speaker interrogates the self and what it means to live in a world that prizes devices over forests." — RHINO
"The veil-like lace Johnson places over the everyday allows the reader a different view of the life she’s living as a mother, teacher, wife, poet, and person in the world. With close reading the veil is lifted and prismatic truths shine." — Joan Biddle's Blog