Cyrée Jarelle Johnson

Cyrée Jarelle Johnson

Photo courtesy of Cyrée Jarelle Johnson


Cyrée Jarelle Johnson is a poet from Piscataway, New Jersey. He is the author of SLINGSHOT (Nightboat Books, 2019), winner of a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. Johnson was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and served as the inaugural poet-in-residence at the Brooklyn Public Library. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Apogee, Foglifter, WUSSY, and Atmos among other publications. WATCHNIGHT, his forthcoming book of poetry, considers ancestry as history in the context of the Great Black Migration of the 20th century, familial estrangement, and queer family.

As an artist of the disability justice movement, I have come to believe that the shape of a poem can act as a body does—carving out a distinctive shape that helps us better understand both the poem itself and the background from which it emerged. When meter is layered above those shapes, when rhyme arrives, when a tradition is evoked, abandoned, or remixed this adds complexity to the body of a poem. This new texture may approximate or recall whiteness, queerness, disability, or any other embodied way of being without announcing such a project.

In form, the unfamiliar stoops beneath the cloak of tradition. The ear loves rhyme because rhyme is pleasurable. What additional depth of feeling, of knowing does that pleasure permit? How does structure force a reader to more completely interact with a poem’s concerns? If we are creatures of breath, how can the poet and the poem compel a reader to breathe like another, and what do we learn from such an exercise?

Receiving this money from the National Endowment for the Arts allows me to deepen my questioning, honor my artistic practice, and most importantly, take care of my sick, disabled, black trans body.