Literature 8-10-2009

mnLIT presents: Jeff Johnson

This week read one of our What Light grand prize-winning poems, this one by Jeff Johnson, selected by poet Joyce Sidman. PLUS: come hear Jeff Johnson, along with a slew of other mnLIT winners, read Monday evening, August 17 at the Ritz Theater.

Jeff Johnson, one of our 2009 mnLIT/What Light grand prize-winners
mnLIT: What Light Poetry Project and the miniStories flash fiction competition

For Theo at Thirteen Months, Hanging from the Woodwork
In His Spring-Tethered Bucket: A Villanelle

You see a fresh blue inkling in his eye;
You see it as he flings himself about.
The baby in the jumper wants to fly.

A lust for kissing gravity goodbye
Is blooming in his marrow, there’s no doubt.
You see a fresh blue inkling in his eye.

He doesn’t want a sip of Mommy’s chai,
He doesn’t want a taste of Daddy’s stout.
The baby in the jumper wants to fly.

The father tells him, Buddy, not so high.
He’s rattled that the kid looks so devout.
You see a fresh blue inkling in his eye.

The father’s wishes, nutshelled: Please don’t die
(A phrase he sometimes struggles not to shout).
The baby in the jumper wants to fly,

And you won’t stop him. What the hell — banzai!
Let all your cherished terrors lose their clout.
You see a fresh blue inkling in his eye.
The baby in the jumper wants to fly.


Juror commentary: This piece was selected as a What Light winner this year by poet Joyce Sidman, who writes, “This poem has it all: wisdom, humor, lovely language, and both adherence to and transcendence of a challenging form (the villanelle). The baby in the jumper DOES want to fly, and neither Mommy’s chai nor Daddy’s stout (the soporifics of age) will stop that ‘fresh blue inkling.’ I especially loved the voice of the poem: a balance between idiomatic (‘The father tells him, Buddy, not so high’) and complex (‘Let all your cherished terrors lose their clout’) that suits the villanelle form beautifully. These parents are already beginning to realize that control is an illusion — this baby will want to fly, over and over, far into the future, and they can’t stop him. Brilliant.”

About the poet: Jeff Johnson is probably not the Jeff Johnson you went to high school with or the Jeff Johnson who fixes your car or that one Jeff Johnson who used to date your sister until she found out about his credit history. He’s definitely not the politician Jeff Johnson. This Jeff Johnson, who lives in Minneapolis with at least 100 other Jeff Johnsons, is a former magazine editor whose work has appeared in such journals as Intro and The Iowa Review.


MARK YOUR CALENDARS: Please join us for a mnLIT reading and celebration on Monday, August 17 at 7 pm at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis. For this event, our 2009 miniStories flash fiction winners, along with the What Light grand prize-winning poets, will read their victorious work.

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