Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson, 2013 Winner of National Poetry Series, is visceral and raw, filled with a great deal of tactile and violent imagery as well as traumatic moments that meld into regenerative water-based forces.  These poems reflect the most basic human needs for shelter, nourishment, and survival, and in these dark images, Johnson reveals a stunning beauty in that underbelly, which many often ignore or avoid.

The collection opens with “Fable,” allowing Johnson to establish the readers expectations that her verse will not be straightforward, but subtle and more instinctual.  “In the forest, the owl releases a boneless cry,” the narrator begins, hearing “your bones/singing into mine.”  A father is observed with his son in the square of a city before a war begins, and he is blissfully unaware of “what his hands will be made to do/to other men.”  However, the boy is the final comment from the narrator, a symbol of innocence and hope that can change the future.

The collection’s title demonstrates how detailed the poems will be, creating a bone map (a visual representation of an excavation site) to understand what has come before.  Like in “Deer Rub” when “the rain scratches at the deer’s coat//as if trying to get inside,” Johnson’s lines bore into the reader’s mind to create vivid and unsettling images.  Readers are forced to watch, to wash “their antlers of blood,” forcing themselves to recognize their transformation into a less “innocent” man or woman and accept those base natures that have children carrying knives.  More than once, Johnson calls the readers attention to a foreignness entering something untouched, like the “tender-rooted flowers/inside the belly of the horse” in “As the Sickle Moon Guts a Cloud.”

In the darkness and uncertainty of the forest, Johnson reveals the devastation of man, but also the unmovable force of nature to encroach where it isn’t wanted.  Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson, 2013 Winner of National Poetry Series, is a journey that readers will want to repeat to fully perceive all of Johnson’s subtleties.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Sara Eliza Johnson‘s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Ninth Letter, New England Review, Best New Poets 2009, Crab Orchard Review, Pleiades, Meridian, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Winter Fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, a work-study scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and an Academy of American Poets Prize from the University of Utah, where she is PhD student in the Literature & Creative Writing program. Her first book, Bone Map (Milkweed Editions, 2014), was selected for the 2013 National Poetry Series.







  • Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

    Wow, I can see how this one was an award winner!

  • Wow, sounds pretty intense! And like there is a lot to think about. It makes me wonder why book clubs don’t pick poetry books!

    • It’s funny that you mention that. My book club gets to do at least one book of poetry per round, since that’s typically what I nominate. This round, however, I’m breaking with tradition and nominating something different.

      I think poetry books would be great discussion books.