Imperial Liquor


Vibrant and deeply felt, Johnson's collection combines contemporary verve with an astonishing breadth of history and culture.
Booklist Starred Review

Finalist, 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award
Finalist, 2021 Rilke Prize

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Imperial Liquor is a chronicle of melancholy, a reaction to the monotony of racism. These poems concern loneliness, fear, fatigue, rage, and love; they hold fatherhood held against the vulnerability of the black male body, aging, and urban decay. Part remembrance, part swan song for the Compton, California of the 1980s, Johnson examines the limitations of romance to heal broken relationships or rebuild a broken city. Slow Jams, red-lit rooms, cheap liquor, like seduction and betrayal—what’s more American? This book tracks echoes, rides the residue of music “after the love is gone.”


the most dangerous men
in my neighborhood
only listened to love songs

to reach those notes
a musicologist told me
a man essentially cuts

his own throat. some nights
even now, i’ll hear a falsetto
and think i should run

80 Pages, 6 x 9 in.

February, 2020

isbn : 9780822966067

about the author

Amaud Jamaul Johnson

A former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University, Amaud Jamaul Johnson is a winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the Edna Meudt Poetry Book Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Dorset Prize, and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the MacDowell Colony, and Cave Canem. Born and raised in Compton, California, he is professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing.

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Amaud Jamaul Johnson