Taylor Johnson holds hands with the unknowns in their rich debut collection of poems “Inheritance,” out this month from the Maine-based Alice James Books. A rich rurality — rabbits, pine forests, muscadines — of life with their grandparents in Virginia is balanced with their native Washington D.C., swampy and thumping. But the personal is the place here, too, and Johnson writes with a openness that registers as strength and self-possession, keeping close listen to the heat and wildness inside. “I’d like to be as animal as language,” they write. “Sometimes language is the animal, sometimes it’s the gun.” They nod at Clarice Lispector, Gaston Bachelard, Jack Whitten, Justin Phillip Reed, and the lines convey a sensual exuberance: “I’m not in love with anyone, but what else can I call the way I buried my face in the purple salvia plant in the bouquet I got from the farm share. Everything unfolds magnificent around me.” They show the way that want wakes a body up to the throb of its own existence. “Which phrase means a grown-up girl: mica-gilded; pure myth; gone? / Thoreau might say I was trying to find the door to nothingness, that the wild was already in me.” The poems are personal, not confessional so much as exploratory. “Sometimes I feel so outside. Then you invite me in.” These poems do the same: they invite us in.
Mapping the Hub
Historic New England each year offers an award honoring a book “that advances the understanding of life in New England from the past to today by examining its architecture, landscape, and material culture.” This year, the Historic New England Book Prize goes to “The Atlas of Boston History” (University of Chicago) edited by historian and historical archaeologist Nancy S. Seasholes. With 57 full-color maps and essays by a number of historians and contributors, the book excavates the city’s cultural life; economic development; its first inhabitants; its place in literary, abolitionist, and reform movements; even its water and sewage; moving from the Ice Age to today. The organization also selects two Honor Books, this year, those include “Connecticut Architecture: Stories of 100 Places” by Christopher Wigren and “The Paintings of J.O.J. Front: An American Story” by Bethe Lee Moulton. The annual prize comes with a $1000 dollar purse, and the Honor Books receive $250.
A virtual dance
The Silver Unicorn Bookstore in Acton, Mass, has had a tradition of inviting the Commonwealth Ballet troupe into the store to perform a highlight reel from their performance of “The Nutcracker,” and afterwards, the troupe members mix with the aspiring young sugarplums in the audience. The pandemic has pulled the curtain on this bit of festivity, but the store and the troupe have worked together to create a virtual version of the performance. Commonwealth Ballet produced a movie called “The Nutcracker en Masque,” in which dancers wear the theatrical masks of their characters, and they’ll be presenting bits of this in a virtual event; young audience members will be able to ask questions and interact with the dancers at the end. The performance and reading event takes place on Wednesday, December 9 at 3 pm. For more information, visit silverunicornbooks.com.
“Cuttings from the Tangle” by Richard Buckner (Black Sparrow)
“Conversations with Lorraine Hansberry” edited by Mollie Godfrey (University of Mississippi)
“An Inventory of Losses” by Judith Schalansky (New Directions)
Pick of the Week
Jacob Fricke at Hello Hello Books in Rockland, Maine, recommends “nitisanak” by Lindsay Nixon (Metonymy): “This book is a queer, ‘Canadian’ Indigenous, prairie punk memoir, fluent in queer and Indigenous academic theory; Cree, Saulteaux, and Métis ancestral teachings and survivance; all the emotional odysseys of queer love and loss; the everyday on-ground legacies of abuse and colonialism; and all the cultural mind games of the current moment. It’s also an elegy, a reckoning with the death of the author’s colonially adoptive white mother and a yearning search to find out whether love is possible at the collision of all of this history.”