Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In the Land We Imagined Ourselves, Jonathan Johnson

Jonathan Johnson has created an unusual collection of poetry, one that goes against much of the stereotypes of modern poetry.  This is a man's man, a tough guy, so to speak, who writes about tangible things rather than transitory concepts or feelings.  My first reaction, about one-third into it, was to stop and see if he has other works to read (yes!).  It's that good.  My second reaction was that this is something my poetry-hating boys would actually read, and enjoy. 

He talks about nature and beauty, especially in Idaho, but mingles in the unexpected:  the B52s, Art Garfunkel's hair, tattoo parlors, logging, fathers, sons, and cars.

From Third Street and the Stolen Boat:

Lampposts tattoo the short shadows of objectivity onto concrete.
Luminescence pierces the lip of every overhanging leaf.

The last of August, sunlit chill breeze and constant sparkle of university traffic again.
A skateboard double clacks the coronary insistence of adolescence...

A longer poem, a masterpiece entitled American Ballad, tells the imagined story of Josie and Wyatt Earp...an unorthodox retelling that plays with the concept of violence on and off the Frontier.

In New You, New Me, he speaks to his daughter Anya, in a poem she will surely treasure, where he recounts his teenage glory days but reveals the greater joy he's found, one that transcends youth:

May you too know singing along with the windows down,
air through your hair,
and the blossoming conviction that someone should be getting this on film.

...Go ahead, make yourself a self you'll be nostalgic for,
and may someone come and rescue you
the way you rescued me, on the pillow beside you telling my story...

Postcard with Black Rocks is my favorite of the collection.  In it he talks about the details surrounded a beloved photograph of the blustery shore, taken at a favorite place he frequented:

Now I walk to the place
in the postcard alone, though not right now.
Not today I mean.  It's winter there today.
And it's night.  It looks nothing like this.

I loved that last line, because I know exactly what he means, although my postcard is different.

Special thanks to Cynthia Lamb of Carnegie Mellon University Press for the Advance Review Copy.

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