The poems [in Collateral] range from personal histories of male entitlement to the speaker’s body, to a simple list of names of dead black women, to the words spoken between two people during an arrest. Simone John, like Claudia Rankine and Charles Reznikoff before her, has a gift for locating her historical moment’s most troubling details and presenting them plainly, using linebreaks with astonishing deftness. ...“Black rage cannot be reworded. // A poem cannot be paraphrased,” writes John in “Ars Poetica,” a claim to poetic distillation which she honors throughout the book, each poem making a single argument with its own stark ending, culminating in the final poem, “The Poet’s Eulogy,” which casts the author herself in the role of dead black woman. Collateral is a profoundly moving book, and gives us much to look forward to with the release of her full-length collection, Testify, from Octopus in 2017.
Mary Austin Speaker
Collateral Review in Rain Taxi Fall 2016 Print Edition
John’s method in this notable debut is incantational. She mixes court transcripts and dashboard recordings with prose poems and personal narratives to create poetic testament. The book is a memorial to Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland, to black transwomen and more lives taken early. In Testify, there is not much time. John’s book offers poetry as solace, knowing it is only a temporary salve for the pain. “Eventually you’ll develop / an inner compass to navigate / this path,” one narrator says to her son. “I am laying the groundwork / to keep you alive long enough to get there.”
TESTIFY Review in The Millions' Must-Read Poetry: August 2017