by Johannes Göransson
Apostrophe Books 2007
Reviewed by Matt Soucy
“If you want to get rid of me / you’re out of luck”
There is a strong cycling of images in Johannes Göransson’s A New Quarantine Will Take My Place. Sustained images set up a dense and tightly-wound set of poems, or, as it intended, a single poem broken up by titled sections. Nearly every poem ends in an incomplete phrase that is completed in the next poem and then turned in a new direction. The convention is not just clever exhibition; piling his poems on top of one another, Göransson provides a sense of anxiety and quarantine.
The voice in “The Seminal Union of Carvers” is striking and strong but also hints that its air of strength and control is at least partially ironic. True to the book’s title, Göransson opens with images of Vietnam, of Peace vs. War, of guards vs. inmates. The book continues in a balance between big picture commentary and personal feeling and experience.
“Shotgun Wedding in the Ribcage of the Bourgeoisie” has a gaudy moment of referring to how poetry teachers would critique the speaker’s work. He seems to be saying, “What are you going to do about it?” This second poem smacks of hubris, if not monomania, and even though the images are culturally broad, they are all blatantly reflected through Göransson. In the end, the provocative and brutal images are taken as personal affronts to be dealt with through violence, humor or poetry.
In “Obscenity Can Be a Form of Asceticism,” he writes, “I’m the son of a liar,” and the poem does actually feel like a lie, pushing the reader away. But there are welcome images which provide solidarity – for example, referring to the glitterati as animals. (The narrator abuses a captive Shirley Temple intermittently throughout the book.) Göransson’s use of animals is one of most interesting parts of the book. He does not stretch very far and pulls generic images (pig = excess, lamb = sacrifice, horse = fear and fragility, bird = beauty and metaphorical flight) but combines and recombines them throughout the book so they actually become more interesting – not an easy feat.
Throughout, humans are animals. That is one reason that genocide/quarantine has happened and will happen again. The poet seems to feel as if he’s living in a genocide. Instead of emulating the epic pieces of traditional literature that pull the greatness of humanity from those experiences, Göransson accepts a nihilism that surges not from humanity but from his own abused perspective. So, though the set-up for the book seems large-scale, the most compelling work comes from the poet’s experience, particularly with abortion.
The narrator in A New Quarantine refers to personal experience which has made him pro-life and seemingly misogynistic. In the aptly titled “We Will Use Clothes Hangers Next Time” and “This Silence Would Be More Pedagogical In A Meatpacking Plant,” Göransson fills the page with images of pigs (fetal and non-), sharks and lambs. “I’m talking you, about filthy girls have no right to call / yourself strippers”…“If you’re a cheerleader don’t / forget the vermin in your outfits…” In “Two Poems,” Goransson writes:
I only learned three things from those years:
If you want to get rid of a baby throw out the bath
If you want to get rid of a shivering lamb toss it into a
Of starving dogs. If you want to get rid of me, you’re
out of luck
I’ve tried my whole life. We must be twins
Two criticisms are that the use and reuse of images can lead to sometimes tiresome redundancies and repetitions, and that the whole book as a continuous poem can lead to a page-turner effect a la The DaVinci Code where the reader is coerced, rather than compelled, to keep reading. Importantly, Johannes Göransson keeps you reading.