Midway through this volume, the poet tells of ``this strong woman / who tossed her own talent out for the laundry, the dishes, / the crafting of her children's minds.'' And so this seems to be almost autobiographical. Writing under the name Judith Johnson Sherwin, Johnson's Uranium Poems won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1969. Six other books were published during the next decade, but this is her first collection since 1979. As in her previous writings, these long-lined, rhythmic poems, caught somewhere between jazz and the most haunting of nursery rhymes, require several readings to be fully understood. The startling presence of the ice lizard serves as a metaphor for the suppressed self. Poems conversing with this half-dead animal uncovered in the root cellar open the book's first three sections and appear near the end of the fourth, where the lizard is ``she whom i had left there / when i had no more strength.'' Borrowing imagery from art and politics, Johnson struggles to record more than her own petty travails, but it is when she is most personal--as in the three ``Before Notre Dame'' poems, in which she stands before the cathedral and resolves various internal conflicts--that she is at her best. (Sept.)
In her opening poem, a Dantesque Johnson--``well past the midpoint of my life, not in a dark/ wood, but in my own house''--descends to her cellar to find ``the Ice Lizard/ whom i had so long forgotten.'' The ice lizard is her muse, and Johnson evidently plunges downward to meet her whenever she writes, retrieving scraps of feeling and memory to create visceral, sharply imagistic poems. Often, the atmosphere is surreal--``last night the moon milled the shadows under these trees/which were hungry and ate them''--and Johnson nicely balances a luxurious if unorthodox sensuality with some wicked skewering of contemporary life: ``It was the morning of the Great Rat Race, o rejoice in the new day.'' A winner of the 1968 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, Johnson is an accomplished poet with six books to her credit. Her poems are occasionally self-indulgent, or spin out of control, but this book generally represents a refreshing change from much contemporary poetry, ordinary poems written about ordinary events in an ordinary voice.--Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''