Vanessa Couto Johnson
Free Verse Editions
Edited by Jon Thompson
Information and Pricing
978-1-64317-381-8 (paperback, $15.99); 978-1-64317-382-5 (PDF, $9.99); 978-1-64317-383-2 (EPUB, $9.99). © 2023 by Parlor Press, 106 pages
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What People Are Saying
In Vanessa Couto Johnson’s pH of Au, alchemy is an art of both green and gold. Weaving between present and an ancestral past in Brazil’s gold rush, losses can come from blames or be presaged by blood in the mouth. These poems are a prayer of fruits, a study of the self as a stranger, a slippery lyric mirror where gold can be both wound and repair. —Traci Brimhall
“The animal who only wants // gold are some humans,” Vanessa Couto Johnson writes in pH of Au, describing the impact of the Brazilian gold rush on her ancestors: colonialism, war, injury, death, and environmental destruction. With shimmering, fresh language, Johnson proposes the ephemeral as a more meaningful alternative to the insolubility and permanence of gold. Powerful, intangible memories fill the absences of a long-distance relationship, and the transient actions of cooking and eating represent the ultimate form of meaning-making. In pH of Au, Johnson beautifully reveals how all matter—whether a precious metal or a steaming bowl of ramen—is alive, charged with memories and connected to all other living things, their borders dissolved by the universal solvent of love. This stunning work proves that Johnson is nothing less than a modern-day alchemist, working golden miracles in her lines. —Alyse Knorr
Poetry for Vanessa Couto Johnson is alchemy. In pH of Au, this fine young poet mixes personal and familial narratives with science and deep learning to assay how we might discover the magic, the gold, in our lives. Along the way she develops a distinctive idiom made of disparate languages—English, Portuguese, Tupi-Guarani, the semantics of chemistry. Even her three sections’ titles (“Chrysocyon,” “Hylozoism,” “Kintsugi”) come from Greek and Japanese, as each surmises its own alchemical answer, from the “golden dog” of Brazil, to the tenet that all matter is alive, to the art of restoring breakage with golden seams. Vanessa Couto Johnson is alert to all these “golden ratios,” and more, where even her own blended family is a figure for magic: “An immigrant is an / emigrant // is an immigrant. A generation of / equation shifts letters sometimes.” The poems of pH of Au are alchemical wonders, “summing while humming.” —David Baker
Through chemistry, alchemy, citizenship, and social connections, the speaker of pH of Au navigates location and displacement, physical and otherwise. A Brazilian, a Texan, a granddaughter, a periodically long-distance partner—through her various identities, some properties of gold manifest.
About the Author
Vanessa Couto Johnson is the author of the full-length prose poetry book Pungent dins concentric (Tolsun Books, 2018) and three poetry chapbooks, most recently speech rinse (Slope Editions’ 2016 Chapbook Contest Winner). Johnson has taught at Texas State University since 2014.
Author Photo Credit: Samuel Wilson.
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