Books

Imperial Liquor

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With a shaken lyric voice, Imperial Liquor burns going down. Like cities. Like the years spent trying to get along. Like the terror, anger, pain, and shame swallowed that Amaud Jamaul Johnson has uncapped here, poured out here, for kin and kith who came and went, his children, mine, the ones we were and are, the ones who raised us, the adults an empire’s relentless thirst makes some of us too early. Johnson distills that here. A shattering achievement. It’s eerie and terrible, no less than Beauty’s dark miracle. It’s Johnson’s poetry. Sip this fire slowly.                               –Douglas Kearney

There are countless models of black masculinity in America. Some are enshrined in pop culture while others collect dust in the archives of ivory towers. With Imperial Liquor, his third poetry collection, Amaud Jamaul Johnson arranges them, the familiar and the forgotten, with intense lyricism and formal dexterity, and in figures that lay bare the culture at America’s core as well as the genius that produces it. Johnson is a crowd-pleaser, a hole-card-reader, a social critic and consummate chronicler of the Rap Age. He’s got your number, don’t sleep. You’ve got to peep this hustle, and delight.      –Gregory Pardlo

Johnson’s poems cannot teach his children how to protect themselves—there are too many aggressors. Instead, his poems catalogue the many dangers they face and the impossibility of predicting what could assail them. Johnson’s poems are also a testament to a father’s longing to protect his children even while suspecting he will fail to do so.              –Poetry Foundation

 

Darktown Follies

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“In these poems Amaud Jamaul Johnson channels a confluence of Robert Hayden, Frederick Douglass, and Dave Chappelle to create a synergistic poetry that sings the lyric, chants down babylon, and makes your head spin with the ironic twists of history seated on the front porch of the present. Darktown Follies is an acutely discerning book that challenges the reader’s sense of blackness in the American landscape. Intimate, intellectual, and incredibly funny, this is poetry carved from a past that can only be seen in the light of this moment.”
— Matthew Shenoda

“Almost unbearably painful and poignant, Amaud Jamaul Johnson’s remarkable new book Darktown Follies walks the difficult line between historical record and lyric insight, embodying the legacy and power of The Minstrel Show. Johnson’s poems figure minstrelsy not as cultural anomaly nor artifact, but as a method of “othering” the dumb show of contemporary racial relations. One thinks of Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s Mask, and equally Etheridge Knight’s Shine. Johnson’s minstrels are shifty and shifting, both objects and shapers of an outside gaze — the smile indicts; the smile implicates. In Johnson’s deft hands and acute ear, the overt address reflects and refracts the brutal amalgam and fragmentary pluralism, the assonance and dissonance that are the collective American experience. For what these poems reveal in us and about us, for what they project as us, and for their riveting beauty, we are awed at the tragedy and comedy of our histories and identities. We are at the mercy of The Show.”
 James Hoch

 

Red Summer

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“Equally confident within the lyric and narrative modes, Johnson’s Red Summer startles and impresses with its sheer range of vision, at one moment giving us a hushed, confessional poem, at another a poem of public, political consciousness… Johnson speaks from a space he describes at one point as “between gravity and god”—that is, past the provable, material world, but just shy of any clear confirmation of prayer or faith—and it’s a particular kind of faith that these poems at once enact and point to, what Robert Hayden called “The deep immortal human wish,/the timeless will,” the will to believe. Johnson’s poems remind us that the human record is at last a mixed one: violence, shame, betrayal, and fear, but also joy, courage, love and, yes, hope. Red Summer gives us the stirring debut of a restorative new American voice.”—Carl Phillips