Bone Map

Romantic notions of the natural world fold under the churning surf of Sara Eliza Johnson's debut book of poetry, Bone Map. Here the ecological is physical, stark and often violent, but never less magnificent for it. Johnson's poems draw from a mindful amazement over plant, animal, sky, water and humanity. "Listen--I am," she writes in "Elegy Surrounded by Water," "trying to send you/ a human sound,/ which is bones." Her spare, versatile diction gives these slender poems the intractable grip of a sudden riptide. Each one vivisects its subject to better appreciate its force of beauty, its startling nature, with novel grace and curiosity.

In "Märchen" (German for "folktale"), Johnson writes of a wolf carcass, its neck lacerated, "the wound a cupful of rippling/ black milk, where maggots curl star-white," translating this dead animal into the night sky as if partaking in the astrological legacy of naming constellations to guide lost travelers. Later, in "Primordial Sea," she describes how "Night flowers open/ like white gills to breathe." These lines couple into possibility within a series of three poems called "Pathfinder," where she delineates the evolution of embodiment and the relationships between bodies. Is it mere plant life or the night itself that flowers with white gills? The pieces can be arranged in numerous ways, leaving Bone Map a vibrant cosmos to be charted again and again. Winner of the 2013 National Poetry Series, judged by Martha Collins (White Papers), this collection is poetry to behold, as though it were itself a force of nature. --Dave Wheeler, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

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