Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ronald Johnson 'n' Me

One of my colleagues compares the academic summer to the weekend: up til Labor Day, it's Friday night. Then it's Saturday up til July 4 (say). Then it's Sunday, and August is Sunday Night. Time's up!

I've been trying to get people to read a book that just came out; and for the first part of the summer, was revising a manuscript I'd like to come out, too. A couple of other writing projects, a little administration, a few grad students to work with, and before you know it, your blog has languished for three weeks.

Well, it's about time I at least wrote about JUNE! One of the things occupying my time during that month was a reading group I organized to discuss the works of the American poet Ronald Johnson. RJ was born in Ashland, Kansas, and grew up there and in Topeka, where he also spent his final years. So we claim him as One of Ours - even tho he lived most of the rest of his life in New York, Colorado, and San Francisco, with interegna in other spots.

The occasion was the visit of the Canadian poet Sonnet L'Abbé, who is also a doctoral candidate in the English Dept. at the Univ. of British Columbia in Vancouver. If you don't know her poems, you should. Her recent stuff, in particular, is concerned with some of the same issues that brought her from her delightfully temperate home to the global-warming capital of North America (viz., aquí). Those issues have to do with the nature and implication of metaphors involving plant life.

Sonnet w/Ronald Johnson plaque at Ward-Meade Park, Topeka, where he used to work. 

Clearly, RJ was obsessed by our foliate friends, the plants. From Book of the Green Man to Shrubberies, they're all over the place (literally):

What the Earth Told Me

No surface is allowed to be bare,
& nothing to stand still. A man could forever study a pebble

& at last see dilations & expansions of the hills -
to pull the most slender stalk, is to jostle the stars,
& between the bearded grass
& man 'looking in the vegetable glass
of Nature', is a network of roots & suckers
fine as hairs.
I threw a stone upon a pond
& it bounded the surface, its circles interlacing

& radiating out to the most ephemeral edge.

Flint & Mica, Lichened Limestone, Shale & Sarcens, Sandstone, Soil.

I saw the wind moving on a meadow
& the meadows moving under wind
lifeting, & settling & accumulating.

Flint & Mica, Lichened Limestone,

Shale & Sarcens, Sandstone, Soil.

[from The Book of the Green Man, 1967]

If you hear Whitmanesque echoes here, you're meant to ("Letters to Walt Whitman" is well worth a read, too); this is a pastoral poem written in the English countryside - by an American.

Another occasion for the group was my desire to - finally - read Ron Johnson's work. I'd lived in his home state for 15 years w/o doing so. My net-net: Green Man is amazing. Radi Os was necessary, and it is what it is. The concrete poetry is extremely interesting. The middle section of ARK is amazing. Much of Shrubberies is extremely moving and well-wrought. Not bad, Ron.

[To Be Continued - it's late . . .]