I am writing to call your attention to a sharp review of Ronald
Johnson's The Shrubberies (Flood Editions, 2001) by Peter Campion in
the latest issue of Poetry Magazine (May 2004). It concludes:
"In the mid-nineties, in ill health and no longer able to afford the
San Francisco Bay area, where he had lived for twenty-five years,
Johnson returned to his native Kansas. O'Leary tells us that 'he
lived in Topeka with his father, and took a job as a handyman,
gardener, and occasional cook at Ward-Meade, a historic park in
town.' It's hard to read this without feeling a sense of injustice.
The disgrace appears even worse if one notices how much mainstream
marginality and cutting-edge dullness gets rewarded these days. But
there's also something wrong about using Johnson as a stick with
which to beat other poets. His work has no time for pettiness;
instead, rippling with curious exactitude, it tests our capacity for
intellectual gusto. This poet was what people in the landscaping
business call 'a gardener's gardener.' While pruning overgrowth and
imprecision, he allowed his material to take its own course, to
surprise and engage the reader's tactile imagination. Many won't have
time for the attentiveness this kind of writing requires. For those
who do, The Shrubberies will afford a difficult but enduring
NOTE: John Taggart's PASTORELLES has just been released!
Watch for Tom Pickard's THE DARK MONTHS OF MAY in September.
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