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Imperial Liquor: Poems

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Imperial Liquor is a chronicle of melancholy, a reaction to the monotony of racism. These poems concern loneliness, fear, fatigue, rage, and love; they hold fatherhood held against the vulnerability of the black male body, aging, and urban decay. Part remembrance, part swan song for the Compton, California of the 1980s, Johnson examines the limitations of romance to heal b Imperial Liquor is a chronicle of melancholy, a reaction to the monotony of racism. These poems concern loneliness, fear, fatigue, rage, and love; they hold fatherhood held against the vulnerability of the black male body, aging, and urban decay. Part remembrance, part swan song for the Compton, California of the 1980s, Johnson examines the limitations of romance to heal broken relationships or rebuild a broken city. Slow Jams, red-lit rooms, cheap liquor, like seduction and betrayal—what’s more American? This book tracks echoes, rides the residue of music “after the love is gone.”   Smokey   the most dangerous men in my neighborhood only listened to love songs   to reach those notes a musicologist told me a man essentially cuts   his own throat. some nights even now, i’ll hear a falsetto and think i should run


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Imperial Liquor is a chronicle of melancholy, a reaction to the monotony of racism. These poems concern loneliness, fear, fatigue, rage, and love; they hold fatherhood held against the vulnerability of the black male body, aging, and urban decay. Part remembrance, part swan song for the Compton, California of the 1980s, Johnson examines the limitations of romance to heal b Imperial Liquor is a chronicle of melancholy, a reaction to the monotony of racism. These poems concern loneliness, fear, fatigue, rage, and love; they hold fatherhood held against the vulnerability of the black male body, aging, and urban decay. Part remembrance, part swan song for the Compton, California of the 1980s, Johnson examines the limitations of romance to heal broken relationships or rebuild a broken city. Slow Jams, red-lit rooms, cheap liquor, like seduction and betrayal—what’s more American? This book tracks echoes, rides the residue of music “after the love is gone.”   Smokey   the most dangerous men in my neighborhood only listened to love songs   to reach those notes a musicologist told me a man essentially cuts   his own throat. some nights even now, i’ll hear a falsetto and think i should run

58 review for Imperial Liquor: Poems

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nick Walsh

    In Imperial Liquor there is something much deeper, you feel every line carries something more. Kamikaze layers Built blocks Sewer tops Underground passageways Raking The more I read the more I get. The more I get the more I wanna read. At first I'm thinking the language is dense, word for word sprung, each a brick in a jenga formation. I look up names, movie plots, movies I want to watch, people taken by violence. After one through I'm re-reading. Johnson makes me feel some strange hesitation. Suspense. S In Imperial Liquor there is something much deeper, you feel every line carries something more. Kamikaze layers Built blocks Sewer tops Underground passageways Raking The more I read the more I get. The more I get the more I wanna read. At first I'm thinking the language is dense, word for word sprung, each a brick in a jenga formation. I look up names, movie plots, movies I want to watch, people taken by violence. After one through I'm re-reading. Johnson makes me feel some strange hesitation. Suspense. Some wanting to come together. It's not teasing and it's not tricky or coy. These poems are like traveling down a road in 2 vehicles at the same time. There's Yaphet Kotto who is Jewish, a descendent of multi-generation African Jews. We've got Teddy Pendergrass speeding w a transgender prostitute in a Rolls. We've got Phillis Wheatly rollerrinking in a 1970s Candi Staton halter top with her Afro sheened husband John Peters. This is Americana mythology at its Black most The records spin through this book The 70s seen through Goya, Orpheus, Tartarus The most devastating poem--I had to put it down that night and just wonder what's possibly in us--I saw with the eyes of a Black dad thinking about Latasha Harlins when his 2 sons take too long at their neighborhood convenience store. I wonder if Imperial Liquor references the name of that store where Harlins, a teenage school girl buying a carton of OJ, had the back of her head blown off by the store owner. I learned about the existence of the movies The Hammer, Sparkle, and the Radiant Child;  I watched the original Dolemite film starring Rudy Ray Moore, and considered his contribution to inventing rap. And the movie Colors all came back from when I saw it as a 11 year old. It's quietly exciting He has some hard hitting collisions going  Like in "Doo-Wop" the words wave and shatter From "Place Your Bets" "And out of hunger, where you so neatly have honed a poetics of debt and redemption, and your own special scent of a woman brand of transformation, I understand." In "LA Police Chief Daryl Gates Dead at 83" I'm thinking, is this about a barbeque, party, riot, funeral, neighborhood shooting, death? I can smell smoked meats. See the graffiti. I hear the deacon chastising the congregation. I'm inside the church, the neighborhood, the TV playing next room. There's some surreal too. A little "Farm Implements and Rudebagas in a Landscape" tucked in to Johnson's way. I keep going back to them, carrying the book with me. California redwoods, sunshine, Hollywood meets Compton in a Greco-African mythos. Johnson speaks the language of the unheard but spoken. He doesn’t need to say words. They’re there in the others. He doesn’t need to make the point. It’s surmised from the packing, like the blocks in a Jenga or Tetris, his poems a tight knit sweater but there’s a wandering thread to pull. First read of every poem in this book was like a first date where you have nothing in common but can’t stop thinking about the person later. So I’d re-read still not getting it. I’d read it aloud to my girlfriend. She was interested too. Then I’d pick up the Google. Look up Black Dragons or Daryl Gates and I’m delving into a wormhole of Black Hollywood/Compton/American/history. And boom I’m back re-reading. Johnson has a way of saying things he doesn’t write. I’m hearing words that aren’t in the poem. I swear they’re there and I have to re-read to verify they’re not. He plants in the ambiguous séance. He’s not mystical but he is. He’s academic but he’s on the street. I’m carrying that book around flipping it, beating it, wearing it in. I have tons of books to read but I don’t wanna hurry to the next one. Reading many things has its overwhelming power, but dwelling on one good thing over and over has its serenity beyond.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Angela Boyd

    In the midst of the protests of the murder of George Floyd and the loss of so many other black lives to state-sanctioned violence and institutionalized white supremacy, I found myself turning to poetry and to this collection in particular. I’m glad I did. If there is a book for this moment this is it. It brings us from the LA riots to the present. Johnson’s words are brutal and they’re beautiful. Highly recommend.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Gorgeous, brutal, and profoundly haunting. Johnson's poems are seductively adorned with beautiful images and compelling syntax, but each line delivers devastation. Even after finishing this book over a month ago, I find I keep reopening this amazing collection to re-read my favorite poems. One of my favorite books of 2020. Gorgeous, brutal, and profoundly haunting. Johnson's poems are seductively adorned with beautiful images and compelling syntax, but each line delivers devastation. Even after finishing this book over a month ago, I find I keep reopening this amazing collection to re-read my favorite poems. One of my favorite books of 2020.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nikolai Garcia

    A lot of music in this book: Rap, RnB, Doo-Wop--it's all in here like a greatest hits album! The music serves as a soundtrack to themes of growing up in Compton during violent times, what it means to be Black, and family & parenting. If you like high dosages of pop-culture in your poetry, this one's for you. A lot of music in this book: Rap, RnB, Doo-Wop--it's all in here like a greatest hits album! The music serves as a soundtrack to themes of growing up in Compton during violent times, what it means to be Black, and family & parenting. If you like high dosages of pop-culture in your poetry, this one's for you.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ariatna B. Mendoza

    About loneliness, fear, fatigue, anger and love; are topics that are covered in a solemn way, for the context of said book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Bentley

    Intellectual and visceral, the best poetry I’ve read in a long time. Why was I reminded of James Joyce? I’d have to reread Joyce to track that thought down.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Absolutely nothing phony or prettied-up about this volume of verse that seems integral to the Black experience in the US circa 2021. Yet it is very poetic. Needs several reads. Highly recommend.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    A minute spritz of intriguing wordplay in a mass of the ordinary. Hard pressed to regale this with many stars because the wading outweighed the intrigue... for me. Although I am one of many... and we may not agree.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Koslowski

  10. 4 out of 5

    Loestrella

  11. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Michelle

  12. 4 out of 5

    Megoca

  13. 4 out of 5

    Roraes10

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kima Jones

  15. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eloise Johnson

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sabena

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jennie Ann

  19. 5 out of 5

    Eroding Witness

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  21. 5 out of 5

    Yanni

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tori Reneé

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sabina

  24. 4 out of 5

    Adam

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mark Taylor

  26. 4 out of 5

    Esplin Oh

  27. 4 out of 5

    GAPECA12

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kieran

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aidan

  30. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Baez Bendorf

  31. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Havoc

  32. 5 out of 5

    Don Gochenour

  33. 4 out of 5

    Jessika

  34. 4 out of 5

    Allison

  35. 5 out of 5

    Lanika

  36. 5 out of 5

    Tricia

  37. 4 out of 5

    Natasha

  38. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  39. 5 out of 5

    Tasha Nins

  40. 4 out of 5

    Rami Tannous

  41. 4 out of 5

    sidney

  42. 5 out of 5

    Jen Bacher

  43. 5 out of 5

    Simone

  44. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

  45. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Sauceda

  46. 4 out of 5

    SimranDraws

  47. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Tyson

  48. 5 out of 5

    Terrisa

  49. 5 out of 5

    Marie

  50. 5 out of 5

    Katia Hise

  51. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  52. 5 out of 5

    Shaunterria

  53. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Jackson Berry

  54. 5 out of 5

    Alberto

  55. 5 out of 5

    Lex with the Text (Alexis Sims)

  56. 5 out of 5

    Heather

  57. 5 out of 5

    Kasia

  58. 4 out of 5

    Loretta Gaffney

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