Kimberly Johnson’s Uncommon Prayer
Book Review by Ashley Imlay
In her third collection of poetry, Uncommon Prayer (Karen and Michael Braziller Books, 2014), Kimberly Johnson astounds with her ability to render images both fantastical and earthly, and her ability to elevate the earthly to the fantastical (“See how, shot, that clatter of tacks glints / Like stars above the bonfires”).
The collection, divided into three parts--Book of Hours, Uncommon Prayers, and Siege Psalter--contemplates the state of modern existence and modern faith. In Book of Hours, Johnson captures moments of the day with stunning imagery (“The sun rolls up like a jackpot / the thousand blinding coins of it spilling / across my windshield’s dustdapple.”). In Uncommon Prayer, a collection of couplet-poems, she speaks in voices of people and things both living and inanimate. “Cowpunch” reads, “And if we, frostburnt, snowblind, shoulder / Through the storm to find our destination / It will kill us. Soul, I will follow you anywhere.” In Siege Psalter, each poem is titled after a letter in the phonetic alphabet. “Bravo” begins, “The psalmists knew how to begin: by buttering up.” Each section builds up to the denouement, in which the speaker observes, “The clockhands struggle to the vertical hour. Somewhere / on the other side of the world, the sun is still shining.”
Throughout the collection, Johnson demonstrates a characteristic prowess with word-play. Ever powerful, lyrical, and vivid, the words slide off the page to be devoured by word-lovers with gusto.
Tonally, the poems contain a quick-witted humor and cynicism mixed with hope—fitting for the social atmosphere of today. With Uncommon Prayer, Johnson offers a collection that is both relevant and enjoyable.