denis johnson, the poet

Denis-JohnsonJay Deshpande at Poetry Magazine:

A Denis Johnson sonnet is worth reading for sheer pyrotechnics: watching him build and then maneuver his way through rhyme schemes and a muscular, variable use of iambic pentameter is thrilling in its own right. What’s more, his sonnets spin extremities of human emotion into powerful, intensified moments. Like many of the great masters of the sonnet, he mustered rich rhetoric to make his point and turned the particulars of a romantic profession into a gutting, universal truth that far exceeds the bounds of the love poem. (Take the sonnet “Sway,” which presents the fundamental formula of love: “the story that begins / I did not know who she was / and ends I did not know who she was.” His great innovation, though, was making the sonnet frame a moment of awe that surpasses understanding.

Consider Johnson’s poem “Heat.” This sonnet, published in The Incognito Lounge, wraps an erotic scene with a sudden lyric profession of wonder and fury. It calls upon Johnson’s surprising narrative economy, using only the briefest fragment to evoke an intensified post-coital tableau:

Here in the electric dusk your naked lover
tips the glass high and the ice cubes fall against her teeth.

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