Cyrée Jarelle Johnson ’19 Publishes 'WATCHNIGHT'

Lisa Cochran
March 27, 2024

WATCHNIGHT, the Laughlin Award-winning collection by writing alumnus Cyrée Jarelle Johnson ’19, is forthcoming from Nightboat Books this April. 

The title, WATCHNIGHT, is a nod to recurring elements of Johnson’s work—confession, communal song, and prayer. Johnson escapes temporality in his poems, entering, with an unnamed protagonist, into a psychedelic world.

Johnson’s lyrical poems move through portals from 1803 to a near-future, immersing the reader in a psychedelic world beyond temporality, revealing lands ravaged by climate disasters and evoking human faces of those who have suffered at the hands of mass displacement. However, his work is far from fatalistic. 

In describing these various glimpses of a world that could very well be ours, Johnson presents an ode to Black camaraderie, Black flight, and Black grief. In one poem, he writes about “The smell of the fungi / reclaiming damp cardboard and moss and shadowy mold.” Then, his protagonist seeks clarity from more celestial dimensions, “With / the stars knitted in their silent song, I felt the only truth.”

According to poet David Woo, “WATCHNIGHT restores some of the circulation to the occasionally bloodless wing of American poetry inspired by traditional meter and rhyme.” 

“Cyrée Jarelle Johnson is a poet who is able to witness the self in the act of becoming," says Writing alumna Harmony Holiday ’13, "a process of refinement and expansion, that this collection allows those lucky enough to read it to join.” 

WATCHNIGHT is available for pre-order here

Slingshot (Nightboat Books, 2019), Johnson’s first collection, won a Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. He has served as the inaugural Poet-in-Residence at the Brooklyn Public Library and was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Currently, Johnson is a 2023 National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellow. He  is originally from Piscataway, New Jersey. His work can be read in The Boston Review, Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, the Yale Review,Granta, Poetry, WUSSY, The New York Times, and elsewhere.