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Kinesthesia Paperback – November 23, 2010
All Books, All the Time
Read author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more at the Amazon Book Review. Read it now
About the Author
Johnson as also won 21 awards, grants, and honorariums, including: New Rivers Press MVP, White Eagle Coffee Store Press Chapbook Competition, Minnesota State Arts Board Artist's Inititiative Grant, SASE Writer-to-Writer Mentorship Award, Loft Mentor Series Competition award--Poetry, Academy of American Poets James Write Poetry Prize (Honorable Mention), Gesell Award for Excellence in Poetry, Marcella DeBourg Fellowship Award for Nonfiction, Eleanor b. north poetry Prize, John S. Mikla Memorial Book Award.
Johnson was born in Minneapolis, MN; she has lived in Alaska, and now lives in New Mexico. During the time she wrote these poems, Johnson was also studying alternative and complementary medicine and working as a birth doula.
Top customer reviews
Through her impeccable use of conversational language, Johnson's poems speak the burden of past lives and the failures and desires of parents in her poem "City of Stomach, City of Throat":
Sometimes I feel you, stomach,
in my spleen.
This isn't the American spleen I'm talking about.
It's the emotional channel
where I hold my father's pain,
the unfathomable wishes never turning true.
And my mother and grandmothers --
they sleep upright
in my throat. (11)
Here Johnson is speaking of the stress individuals feel when they carry their parents' burdens. She channels the pain, the emotional wounds, of a demanding father and speaks for the speaker's mother and grandmothers who did not use their voice and were subject to the same pains and emotional scarring.
Johnson's poems gain strength by appealing to the root of our emotions; to get at the meaning of her poetry, we, as readers, must let down the emotional guards we build up to protect our hearts and become vulnerable to each piece. While reading Kinesthesia, we find poetry letting us into profoundly personal and intimate moments of life experiences and struggles. Sometimes it is a recollection of a childhood memory that says more than is ever revealed, such as a girl watching her mother in "The Smell," who compulsively washes her body and clothes multiple times a day signify a common behavior of rape victims. The indirectness and the emotional resonance of the poem come from the feelings to pain and helplessness of the speaker as well as the mother's situations.
Appealing to the emotional aspects of our character is simply what Johnson does best in her poetry. At her best, she shows us moments of physical or emotional pain and struggle and transforms those sensations into beautiful successes, even without us seeing the success. Such success manifests in her poem "Cartography" where she depicts preparing the female body for the birthing process in mystical and primal imagery:
She held a towel, a kettle of hot water.
Washed the wound-to-be, the wound covering a tunnel under the
a cave where pain trickled, crystallized
stalagmites -- arrow-ended pressing into my hip bones
where the great weight had been dropped. (59)
The image of the speaker's mother cleaning her daughter's genitals to help prepare her body for the wound that is to come from giving birth emphasizes a personal approach to the female body and the taxing nature of childbirth, while transformation of the female body into a cave connects birth to nature; to the roots of humanity, the earth.
The honesty and brutality with which Johnson depicts these moments of raw emotion in her book can alienate some readers because they are not able to relate to the experiences or cannot allow themselves to become emotionally vulnerable enough to connect with the works. Still, Kinesthesia can appeal to many readers, both male and female, at any point in life and strike at the most vulnerable parts of our hearts with honest poems of pain and transformation in the lives of women.
If one poem captures all there is in this book, it would be `Blunt Helix', which shows the careful stepping of a small child to a recognizable adult with the strange memories of the past. This, for me, was the turning point in the book. After this point the poems seemed to become clearer and easier to finish.
Sister, I don't want to shock you,
But I have more family secrets.
That's what happens when you're the last one
to leave home.
You flew away, Sister.
Do your wings fit you these days?
Your feathers are the thrush of dark water.
You were always the damp sister,
the one stuck
in waterweeds. Bless you,
and forgive me being
so blunt batched---
it's in the genes for me.
Throughout her work, Stephanie Johnson is nearly there. In a handful of poems she fully develops the ideas (Cartography, Geology, The Fox to name a few) contained in her mind. Almost all of the other poems feel very unfinished, like they are pieces, merely snippets of her working journal. The layout does not alleviate the feeling of partial ideas. I routinely thought the poems I had begun on the second page were separate works!
It would be beneficial for the reader to be led along chronologically, with the poems about the young girl (presumably herself) first, the sister poems included, then with poems focused on her mum, then with her beloved Nona in the last part.