About the Book
A tender imagining and devastating reckoning, Jennifer Conlon’s debut presents a poetry collection of gender questioning, concerned with the survival of trans and nonbinary kids who live in places that do not allow them to thrive. The speaker of these poems wrestles with and envisions a life beyond their traumatic childhood as a genderqueer child in a small Southern Bible Belt town. Through retelling and reinterpreting moments of sexual shame and religious oppression, while navigating impossible expectations from a gender-binary society, Conlon shows readers that queerness and the natural world are inseparable. In their poems, Conlon comes to reject oppressive patriarchal figures, turning their gaze toward the natural world that catalyzes dreams of possibility, transformation, and safety—wasps protect them, an oak tree contains a new god, and flathead catfish guide them to a newly imagined body. Through thick North Carolina woods, Conlon searches for a language to celebrate queerness, finding it in ponds, hillsides, and within themselves.
Praise for Taking to Water
The flathead fish—whose sex can be difficult to determine until maturity, which can take years—is a recurring image in Taking to Water. Jennifer Conlon juxtaposes this with human society’s insistence on assigning sex (and gender, accordingly) to children at birth, as the poems in this arresting book argue for an alternative. . . . The urgency here is as much about sex and gender as about the trauma, violence, and violation that, by ignoring them, society (parents, teachers, the church) condones, depending on the assumptions made about a person’s sex and gender. In poems of masterful precision and relentless interrogation past the surface of identity into identity’s beautiful complexity, Conlon asks “What does it mean to control your own body to con-/tort your own sweetness.” “My gender,” they argue, “is a war between layers,” going on to say that if rainbow means a spectrum of color, gender is a “dispersion of a body/of light.” Taking to Water is a startling, necessary collection; what Conlon says about gender’s spectrum can also be said for this book: “it will move across you do not be afraid.”
—Carl Phillips, author of Then the War: And Selected Poems
If you aren’t from the southeastern US, chances are good you’ve never heard of noodling. And even if you have heard of it, with a name like noodling, it would be easy to miss the skill, danger, and genuine collaborative attention it requires. Jennifer Conlon is an expert noodler of the patriarchal church, of family, of the gender binary – all of which is to say, misogynist systems of violence. Yet also with an eye on the world that “loves them like flowers/mouthing their sun,” this poet is also expert at noodling the heart. “I read hundreds of fish species/change from girl to boy/and back and forth like this.” Get wet with this water, friends. We are going from “girl to boy, boy to girl, girlboy/ to gold to boygirl to girlgoldboy to boygoldgirl.”
—TC Tolbert, author of Gephyromania and co-editor of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics
Jennifer Conlon’s Taking to Water is the most transformative collection of poems I’ve read. When Conlon’s speaker says “let there be life in me / in my own beginning” we are given a home in this affirmation of queer resilience, where self-fulfillment can stretch the landscape until the landscape agrees. Taking to Water captures the search for the ways the world could make room for us, “make room / for my body & all / that comes with it.” Conlon has given us a sharper, better lyric to inhabit and demand the world with.
—C.T. Salazar, author of Headless John the Baptist Hitchhiking