SLINGSHOT begins with the author ensconced in the menacing isolation of the pastoral, but once the work migrates to the City, monstrum grows form and fangs. In these messy, horny, desperate poems spun from dream logic, Cyrée Jarelle Johnson considers the consequences of black sexual and gender deviance, as well as the emotional burden of being forced to the rim of society, then punished for what keeps you alive.
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson writes us into a magnified intimacy, a textured devastation, a web that can be stretched, folded and replanted in a backroom, on the subway, and between lungs. SLINGSHOT establishes the conditions for its readability by entangling us in its refusals. Its density drags us across the riverbed of language with unforgiving and unapologetic force.
-Raquel Salas Rivera
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson’s SLINGSHOT is my new favorite book. It is a masterpiece of immeasurable dimension. Within the book, there is incalculable beauty and horror, with poems ‘to coil you in fistulae of yarn and stars,’ the moon ‘maroon/ in the black latex of Pine Barren sky,’ scenes so painful and glorious they cut into your consciousness, with ‘[e]ach fluttering eye pink/ as Coney Island cotton candy. Scarlet/ as suede church shoes.’ Once in a lifetime, there are those books of poems with language so deeply exquisite that it pierces through you and circumvents both simple tradition and innovation. Instead these books make a more timeless lyric, both pre- and post- time, echoing the past and future simultaneously, into an endless present of pure force. In our lifetime, SLINGSHOT is that book. Read it now.
Nothing short of magnificent, Johnson jailbreaks language to speak ambitious, rigorous lyrics of Black/trans/disabled/ sex working story. At times I screamed out loud at the wonderousness of the work. SLINGSHOT is the next generation of Black disabled genius poetics, and I’m in awe and grateful.
-Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
‘Queer utopians think human beings are perfectible / but we’re not, we’re just correctable.’ So begins one poem in Cyrée Jarelle Johnson’s so-good-I-want-to-quote-every-last-line debut collection. But these two lines contain the central explosion and, though they sound like a statement, the central question of SLINGSHOT—What happens after the admission, the recognition of the fact that not everything is salvageable, that some things must go? The answers are various, are voracious: sometimes, zines; sometimes, toe-sucking; sometimes, ‘ominous petrichor’; sometimes, total exhaustion over the so-called allies who bring ‘a big ass pot of raw beans and rice with a lonely fucking bay leaf’; sometimes, ‘burn manhood / down in button up crop tops.’ And sometimes, Chewbacca. Johnson’s language here is restlessly inventive while acknowledging how tiring it is to always, always invent, reinvent—and some things don’t deserve to be reinvented. ‘Oh please,’ one poem says about America, ‘Oh please / let it burn down this time.’
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Paperback, 80 pages, 6 x 8 in
Publication Date: 09/17/2019
Some a few pages long, and some untitled, the poems present themselves as homemade weapons (like slingshots) against malign parents, authority figures, structural racism and fears of the other. It’s challenging work, in its language, its stories, its subcultural references (“prince died for fem bois”), yet it offers pellucid queer intimacies.
A beautifully complex poetry collection, Johnson is defiantly sharp and humorous, with lines clearly from a technician. Themes include Black lives and organizing, disability, queerness, sex work, and societal devastation and care to name a few. If you want a book that flips formalism and confounds, Slingshot is a stunning addition to your self-isolation reading life.
In SLINGSHOT, Cyrée Jarelle Johnson challenges readers with sharp, unapologetic poems of intimacy, gender roles, and disability. The title is spot-on as Johnson hits you like brick and awakens you to the revolution that could finally bring the phoenix from the burning embers of a society on the brink.
There are a lot of reasons to read Cyrée Jarelle Johnson’s new book of poetry. Many readers will pick it up because of its contributions to crucial contemporary conversations ranging from blackness, transness, sex work, police violence, protest and neurodiversity to the new Star Wars movies. Slingshot is also worth getting, however, for its strange, precise, sumptuous and formal poetic technique.
With some poems anchored in the mess of real-time violence and protest, and others floating in a realm where earthliness is exchanged in favor of moral questioning, Johnson’s command of language imbues all of his poems with unforgettable staying power.
Rather than hold the reader’s hand and explain the complexities of the world they’re drawn from, these poems present themselves on their own terms and trust the reader to keep up. It is in this aspect that the poems point back to the title, in a way, each one a stone shot out to strike at the consciousness who hears it.
The book is an incredibly tight, powerful work. The first time I read it, I had to take a walk around the block in the rain. When I say this book does something new, I do not mean that Cyrée Jarelle Johnson is one of those new voices or poets to watch. What I mean is that even if you’ve read thousands of books of poetry, you will be compelled to reread this one. It is unlike whatever you’re reading. This is a debut collection, but this is not an immature work.
These are completely unapologetic poems shot-thru with fierce evidence of a life being negotiated in relation to the self, to the state, and to the john with self-actualized determination, taking life on their own terms, constantly asking what would you do if you were pushed? There is intimacy and lyric but no room for fragility here, no long romantic, pastoral musings and no, you may not cling to outmoded formalisms without facing a mirror, full frontal. As the title suggests, these poems are projectiles, and the shape of them, handmade.