20 Points: The Crimes of Clara Turlington
by Meg Johnson
Vine Leaves Press, 2015
1. The cover is in a shade of purple, which of course brings to mind Prince.
2. The font on the cover and for the poem titles isn’t identified in the front matter, but it looks like something one would see on a marquee of the 1930s.
3. Another interesting touch is a coffee stain that appears in the top right corner of all the odd numbered pages.
4. In the glowing praise for the book found in the blurbs, there’s the implication of multiple speakers throughout Johnson’s book, but to me it seems like there’s only one.
5. The first poem in the book, “I’m Not a Robust Girl,” features these funny lines: “For someone who spends / so much time blowing / her nose, I get a lot of dates.” This is an example of the style of humor Johnson infuses in these poems.
6. “The Plumber Did Not Find Anything Unusual in the Pipes” is pretty sad and foreshadows the dark tone that’s at the core of the book.
7. “The plumber said he did not see me in the pipes / lost and sobbing on a dark country road.”
8. This line and the poem it comes from epitomizes the vulnerability of the speaker (Clara) throughout the book. Even though Clara is strong, she’s haunted by her past, some of which unravels in a heartbreaking fashion.
9. Clara premeditates: “I guess I’ll just have to poison him” (“Nubs Gives Me Footie Pajamas”), “I don’t have to open it / to know it contains cash, / a handgun wrapped in gauze” (“Talent”), Boom bang bang goes the gun / I shoot (“Ex’s Exit”).
10. The poems whose core element is crime have grit caught between the lines.
11. She’s also a staunch feminist: “My clit like a space / heater, like a second heart, / a bright planet I rule” (“I Like Penises”).
12. The poems with a more feminist bent are more matter-of-fact and don’t apologize for it, a very appealing element of this collection.
13. Clara calls out asshole men, rapists: “He’ll be nice at first. All those years older than you rushing over you like waves. A martini and roofie sea” (“Smells Like Bad Decisions”), “A twelve year old girl / runs barefoot in the woods / to escape her abductor” (“Rebirth”), “My forty-something ex-boyfriend embracing a girl no older than twelve in the back of a car” (“The Haunting”).
14. These poems detail the traumatic life experiences Clara endures and serve as explanations for her crimes.
15. The last poem, “Extended,” pierces like a knife through the heart for Clara.
16. “It’s the horror of discovering who/what / you are really in love with.”
17. “I pray / for health, but fantasize about amnesia.”
18. “Extended” ends the book on a somber note; despite the strong feminist impulses that Clara displays, in the end, she can’t escape her psyche.
19. As a male, white reader of this book, I obviously cannot speak to the experiences Johnson outlines throughout these poems through Clara’s lens.
20. But what I can say is that these poems are heartbreaking and these men deserve what’s coming to them.
Nate Logan is from Indianapolis, Indiana. Some of his recent work appears in burntdistrict, Ohio Edit, and Pouch. With Laura Theobald, he edits Spooky Girlfriend Press.