Jessica E. Johnson writes poetry, nonfiction, and things in between. Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in the Paris ReviewHarvard ReviewPoetry NorthwestPrairie SchoonerRiver Teeth, and Tin House, among others.  Her chapbook In Absolutes We Seek Each Other is available from New Michigan Press. She is an Oregon Literary Fellowship recipient and an Oregon Book Award finalist. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Photo Credit: Becca Blevins

Metabolics: Poems

Jessica E. Johnson

In her debut full-length poetry collection, Jessica E. Johnson portrays the experiences of a single speaker: a mother, teacher, and woman trying to control her body through calorie counters as well as negotiate her time with digital devices, all the while navigating roles, identities, impulses, and relationships that are often in tension.

Metabolics, a book-length poem, borrows the motions of metabolic pathways to consider how nature accomplishes both balance and deep transformation. In visual figures and in prose blocks that bridge the divide between poetry and nonfiction, Johnson employs scientific idioms to construct an allegory about a family in the Pacific Northwest, the region almost 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, including rage. From climate change to kombucha to smart phones to 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.”

104 pages | 6 x 9

ISBN: (pbk) 978-1-946724-57-1

PRAISE FOR METABOLICS

“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 ʻvast, 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 ʻcycles within cycles.’ Once you enter this book, it too will consume your attention. It will eat your imagination until you become ʻsomething more than you imagined.’” —Craig Santos Perez, author of Habitat Threshold

“Jessica Johnson’s 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 Jessica Johnson’s 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.’ Jessica 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 CD 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

Metabolics, 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.” —Ana C.H. Silva, MER

“Thinking about life simply in terms of biology is a kind of comfort to the speaker, a way to meditate, temporarily not to sink under the dailiness. The book makes the case that art need not be so far separated from science. Can’t writing also be more natural, like breath?” —Joan Biddle