In WATCHNIGHT, we accompany Johnson’s unnamed protagonist on a psychedelic quest across myriad forms, places, and times marked by climate crisis, exodus, and Black trans identity-making.
In exhilarating lyric poems and chiseled prose blocks, Cyrée Jarelle Johnson charts the history of his family alongside the history of Watchnight—a churchy holiday of messianic tarrying—and steps through portals to render the human faces of American internal migration and mass displacement—from countryside to city and back again. Spanning from 1803 to a near-future rife with class tension and racial anxiety, WATCHNIGHT is a study of Black bonds, Black grief, and Black flight.
In this book Cyrée Jarelle Johnson demonstrates deep foresight and long memory often in the same phrase. What a ceremony for our times, our wounds, our longings.
“Grief,” Cyrée Jarelle Johnson writes in his brilliant second book WATCHNIGHT “is a sored horse that bucks and hurts.” It is also a singing bridge between who we were and still are. Prepare to be disarmed. Prepare to be amazed. Prepare to be riled up. In the world we live in, Poetry may not contain actual medicine, but the verse of this fine poet comes pretty damn close. Reader, prepare for a healing. Read it. Read it again.
WATCHNIGHT is a calling forth and a calling out, “a challenge to the tongue, but never the heart,” a book that weaves us back to ourselves and to the possibility of a perfect vulnerability.
WATCHNIGHT earns its grand vigilance, its attentiveness to the tension between looking and being seen. The many speakers, rapt with insight and abandon, seem to want to be stewards of earth “who, if no one else, is beautiful” while also wanting to escape this place, fly into dances, walk among the dead, and return to tell it as music. Cyrée Jarelle Johnson, is a poet who is able to witness the self in the act of becoming, a process of refinement and expansion, that this collection allows those lucky enough to read it to join.
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson’s second collection WATCHNIGHT is a major accomplishment of form and imagination. The poems in this book traverse the space between the confessional, the historical, the mythopoetic, and the speculative, guiding readers through all the rich particulars that make up the material of a life. Here is a poet firmly rooted in, but never tied down by, tradition. A poet in dialogue with those who have come before, but who brings to the conversation what is all too rare these days: something poignant and new to say.
WATCHNIGHT restores some of the circulation to the occasionally bloodless wing of American poetry inspired by traditional meter and rhyme.
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson is a poet from Piscataway, New Jersey. He is the author of SLINGSHOT, winner of a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. Johnson was awarded a …