REVIEW: THE CHEMICAL LIFE | BY JIM JOHNSTONE

Reviewed by Chad Campbell in The Manchester Review:

…In the corridors of these nested worlds we glimpse, like the wheel on the wall, the slow crash and delayed impact of addiction and mental illness across the sections of The Chemical Life.

Divided into 5 sections of 6 poems each (the 8-poem versioning of Ovid’s Metamorphoses a notable exception), the careful structuring of the book works, like a building’s hallways or city’s grid, to guide movement through the abrupt perspectival shifts, associative leaps, and kaleidoscopic imagery that so marks the collection. Johnstone’s signature short line brings words and phrases into contact and conflict along borders they wouldn’t typically share, such that the vision tends to double and triple in the play of potential meanings: form as container; language as detonation.

Pixels compressed
into a demon
too greatto resist. Something
like muscle
memory,

the soul confirmed
by a slow
frame rate,

something
like a common
fish

fighting its reflection…

These sparsely populated lines engage the ear in hooks, and allow the word or phrase to exist closer to the state of an object. The speed across this short line and concentrated focus on the few words that occupy them are like momentarily focusing on a sign outside a car window – clear apprehensions that persist as a series of afterimages through the landscape of the poems.

Read the full review here!