Reviewed by Dan Schauer
Sara Eliza Johnson’s collection of poems, Bone Map, manages to sift through the entrails of language, tossing about the viscera of words, and finds a primitive beauty in the brutality of the human experience. Johnson takes the reader from a concrete and primordial world into the heaven space of fables and dreams, mapping out the abstract and surreal places of humanity. Sometimes the author guides us tenderly, and sometimes she drags us like the corpse of a slain deer, through each vivid vision. Johnson accomplishes the surreal journey through these pages with language that tears through the skin and settles into the marrow. Her images and syntax crawl and inhabit the reader’s body.
The rain scratches at the deer’s coat as if trying to get inside
Plants are given the quality of blades so that they can “scythe / through the shadows,” and poems often contains literal holes in their subjects, which have been opened in order to search for what moves beneath. These poems aren’t afraid of the aftermath, either. They deal with the physical remnants of each encounter, sifting through organs and blood, reaching through the physical to the more abstract beneath. However, after surgically slicing through the human condition and its entrails, Johnson finds light. Light in the form of bee venom and rifle fire, light from water, falling light, moonlight and firelight and bioluminescence. The light takes many forms and qualities, acting physically in places.
Moonlight slivers, my eye, silvers my neck which you open gently to lick my oozing light
Johnson leaves the reader at a balance, in the poem “Equinox,” between primal, concrete brutality—
I know their teeth could sever my fingers
—and the surreal—
Soon the whitest sky will shatter, haphazardly / plant its crystal in our skin.
The poems are not in sequence and do not tell any sort of story, but connect to each other like bones—loose joints and tendons that allow the skeleton of the pieces to flex and bend. The pieces trace a map through these connections as the pieces shift from physical to surreal and dark to light as these themes battle with each other on the pages, cartographing a narrative through their symbolism.
If a reader is looking for physical poetry that reaches from the page with a scalpel ready for autopsy, Johnson’s Bone Map is the place to find it.
For more about Sara Eliza Johnson, visit her blog at saraelizajonhson.com and check out these interviews at The California Journal of Women Writers and Poets & Writers.
Meet the blogger:
Dan Schauer is a recent graduate of Hamline where he studied English and creative writing. An aspiring editor and poet, he’s really into the art of language. His favorite authors are Walt Whitman, Neil Gaiman, Matt Rasmussen, and Ray Bradbury. He also spends a lot of time with his pet fish and traveling the world.