Earlier this year, back in November, I had the honor of being in Liz Ahl’s Poetry Workshop class. Throughout the year we not only worked on improving our abilities as poets and writers, but analyzed and were introduced to the works of many other established ones. One of the key authors we read, whose work became a focal point of the semester, was Jenny Johnson. We were assigned her newest book of poetry In Full Velvet to read as the semester progressed. We were made aware that Johnson was going to be hosting a reading and discussion of many of the poems in the book for Professor Ahl’s Eagle Pond Author Series. I decided to cover it for the Arts and Entertainment section of The Clock (our school paper).
At the event she read the introductory poem, and my favorite of this collection, “Dappled Things.” One of the main themes of the book of poetry is her relationship with her sexual identity as a member of the LGBTQ community, and she chooses to use many forms of “Natural” imagery in order to display this. In “Dappled Things” she writes: “ . . . I am inspired, call my girlfriend, say: Won’t you be my Olympic marmot/ chewing on my ear till I lift my tail?/ My black-billed magpie babble-singing to my begging call?/ My lioness, growl, thrust, roll on backs afterward?/ Squeaky as killer whales/ We should keep contact relentless before/ the next sequence . . .” (Johnson 6). One of Johnson’s favorite types of similes and metaphors to use is through animals. She gives her girlfriend and herself animalistic qualities and behaviors to display their love for each other. This is done throughout the many poems of the collection in order to show naturalness to their relationship that some in society would shun or disapprove of.
This almost felt like the idea of Queer Ecology finally being personified in a literary sense. Much like killer whales being connected before they breach the surface of the water, she also feels a need to connect with her girlfriend before leaving her, if only temporarily. It is similar to the understanding of societal constraints that Morton would say characterizes much of society’s understandings of sexuality. Morton states in Queer Ecology: “Queer Ecology would go to the end and show how beings exist precisely because they are nothing but relationality, deep down- for the love of the matter” (Morton 277). Here he is putting an emphasis that the concept of different sexualities is not about whether it can be deemed, rather confusingly, “natural,” but that it is the connections between people that makes the truth out of it. The names are mere labels we use for understanding or, even deeper than that, a lack of understanding.
Jenny Johnson’s reading of In Full Velvet bring an artistic representation of Queer Ecology in action, as she relates her same sex relationship with those from an idealistic and human idea of Nature
Johnson, Jenny. In Full Velvet. Sarabande Books, Incorporated, 2017.
Morton, Timothy. “Queer Ecology.” Academia.edu – Share Research