The Desert Nights, Rising Stars
Writers Conference

Picture of Jenny Johnson

Jenny Johnson

Desert Nights Rising Stars Writers Conference Faculty, 2018

Jenny Johnson is the author of In Full Velvet (Sarabande Books 2017). She is the recipient of a 2015 Whiting Award and a 2016-17 Hodder Fellowship in Poetry at Princeton University. Her poems have appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly, New England Review, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, and elsewhere. She teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and at the Rainier Writing Workshop, Pacific Lutheran University’s low-residency MFA program.


Selected Media

"A Guardian to Others' Solitude: Review of Jenny Johnson's In Full Velvet." Roy Guzmán, The Blue Shift Journal (Mar 18, 2017). See also other reviews by Ploughshares and Autostraddle.

"In Full Velvet is a restless exploration of how queerness manifests itself in shifting contexts, in the political forces that seek to suppress queer spaces, in the “nameless forms” that can’t be categorized (“Dappled Things”), for the “half tomboy, / half centaur” (“Tail”) that strives for survival, and for the entities that “alter / nothing…[yet] alter everything” (“Pine Street Barbershop”). Queerness in Johnson’s book is the Deleuzian “becoming-animal,” the thing that—echoing Gerard Manley Hopkins—is “counter, original, spare, and strange” (“Dappled Things”)—a celebration of the misfits, the in-betweenness, and what remains forever in transition without—here I’m thinking of Elizabeth Bishop—a home."


"An Interview with Larry Levis Post-Gradaute Stipend Receipient Jenny Johnson." Chantal Aida Gordon, MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College (Jun 3, 2016).

"When I said that I have to “fool around with what’s ‘normal,’” I meant that when writing in a fixed form I work first to establish a pattern. So when drafting, I might begin by setting rules. Such as, when writing in blank verse, no more than two substitutions per line — rules to help me hear and feel the pattern in the writing, whether I’m working within a pattern that’s part of a poetic tradition or a pattern of my own devising. As for the disruption, I’m not sure how to describe that part of the process, except that at some point I find that the poem starts singing to its own tune. I think learning how to listen — realizing when to trust a poem’s sudden sense of authority — is key. But I find listening in this way to be such difficult work. It’s like a whole other muscle you have to build, a kind of intuition about knowing when to trust the poem’s autonomous intelligence.

"'Late Bloom,' an excerpt from In Full Velvet." Jenny Johnson, Friends of Writers (Feb 20, 2017).

The name of the spotted apple
on the leafy floor in the woods

outside the white-walled bedroom
where the FM stereo was always

tuned to the same country
station my girl crush loved

was gall, name for an outgrowth,
a shell withering under leaf rot

"The Rumpus Interview with Jenny Jonhson." Olivia Kate Cerrone, The Rumpus (Nov 18, 2015).

"I think normative or binary lenses for seeing bodies often crush or delegitimize other felt physical experiences of being and desiring. I’ve found that such inadequate ways of understanding bodies can be—but aren’t always—based on biological perspectives. As I mentioned earlier, there are biologists who are hard at work complicating those fixed scripts for sexuality and difference. As for the line, “we are more than utility,” I do think that our bodies are capable of many magical and inexplicable things that have nothing to do with reproduction. I have read that some birds may sing just for pleasure and not for any other Darwinian imperative. Birds singing because it feels good—that’s the kind of biology that helps me understand this diverse world."

"From 'Souvenirs'." Jenny Johnson, The Paris Review (2015).

The boots of the dead poet were size 11,
licorice black with a stitch of blue up the calf.
Without the long legs that once filled them,
sent them scuffing through the San Joaquin valley,
they slouch on an oak pedestal in the university library
next to a white placard that tells an anecdote
about the writer’s irreverence at staff meetings,
his casual drop of the f-bomb