Tuesday, May 15, 2012

REBIRTH OF WONDER, POEMS OF THE COMMON LIFE by DAVID M. JOHNSON

DEE THOMPSON Reviews

Rebirth of Wonder, Poems of the Common Life by David M. Johnson
(University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, 2007)

With Rebirth of Wonder, David M. Johnson proves he can be a travel writer and a painter. Places as diverse as the American Midwest and Greece appear vivid and complex. Sometimes he writes fairly traditional poetry ["Labyrinth"]. More often, he pulls out devices and colors, pithy postcards of metaphor, and takes us places in an amazing and powerful way, even though the subject matter (hiking, shopping, home repair) might seem mundane.

Most poets tend to be too self-absorbed and demand that the reader come inside and examine the bits and pieces of their lives spewed out self-consciously. Johnson doesn’t do that. He is like a human camera, focusing on what he sees, and showing us not merely what is seen, but how he feels about it, without ever sounding mannered. This is one of my favorite lines: “We pull for the aurora borealis, leaping and boiling across the sky.” [from "Birthright"].

Many of the poems are, to the naked eye, prose. Small essays like “A Machete for Thorn and Prickly Pear” paint landscapes vivid and immediate -- “Men loaded the gray burro high and heavy with yellow stalks. A woman with black braids brought water in a clay pot, a rope slung around her forehead.” Johnson isn’t trying to rhyme, most of the time. It doesn’t matter.

Probably my favorite poem in the entire book is "Mother At Ninety." Johnson describes the nursing home residents brilliantly: “Strapped into wheelchairs and stretchers, tucked into their bodies like birds in winter.” Nursing homes can be very bleak places. Johnson avoids obvious sentimentality, but gets the point across about his mother -- “Winds of loneliness have worn her down to a smooth, white stone.” He ends the poem with an image of hope and release: “Time for another journey, for the spirit to float free.” Johnson uses spare, non-rhyming two line verses throughout the poem, but each verse is fat with meaning.

I have not read many books of poetry, and I wanted to take my time with this one. Some of the poems need to be read and re-read for the meaning to become fully visible, but not because they are difficult. Some would argue that a poet’s main job is to make the reader think. Johnson does that, but he also documents, with grace and economy, his colorful and fascinating life, with feeling. I would recommend this book without hesitation to anyone, even those who would never ordinarily want to read poetry.

*****

Dee Thompson is a writer and she lives in Atlanta with her mother and son Michael. Dee has written three published books, and has a master's degree in Creative Writing. She writes a daily blog, The Crab Chronicles, and reviews plays for the website The Edge [Atlanta]. In her meager free time, she occasionally writes poetry, too.

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