Four Questions for New Mexico Poet, Bob Johnston

On Saturday, Aug. 6, at Alamosa Books, Bob Johnston will be reading from his first published collection of poems, At the Rim: Selected Poems (Sunstone Press.) No other than Valerie Martinez had this to say about his poetry:

 

“Bob Johnston is a poet of incredible range, whether narrating the rural lands of 'dry lightning,' invoking Rambo in a sonnet, dreaming 'drowned corpses' in a lyric, or voicing the dark monologues of deadly sinners. There is poignancy, humor, regret, and acute insight in At the Rim, everything at the heart of the human condition, and it is a pleasure to read a book of poems that allows us the breadth of what it means to be to be alive in this world.''

 

 

1. Per you bio note, I read that you have translated books written in Russian. Do you think your skills as a translator have helped you in any way when writing poetry?

Yes. My 27 years as a full-time free-lance translator of Russian books and journals -- scientific, engineering, and business -- showed me the importance of finding the precise word or phrase to convey the exact meaning of the text. (And in poetry, the esthetics and emotion as well.) As a hobby, I read Russian poetry and attempted to translate it into English. Reproducing the Russian rhyme and meter was a real challenge, and my twenty-year output consisted of one satisfactory translation.  

2. Are there any themes in particular that run throughout your work?
Loss, love, gratitude, and a dim view of the world we live in.

3. What drew you to poetry? And who are your favorite poets?
It all started with a chance encounter in a psych ward. Too long a story to tell here.
Favorite poets:  Marvell, Dickinson, Cummings, Bishop.

4. Considering the state of poetry in the U.S. today, what do you consider to be the most positive and the most negative about it?

Positive: The pendulum has swung partway back to rhyme and meter, which used to be pretty much sneered at. Negative: The cult of obscurity in academic circles -- if you can understand it, it ain't really poetry.

 

Alamosa Books ◊ 8810 Holly Ave. NE, Suite D ◊ Albuquerque, NM 87122 ◊

(505) 797-7101 / www.alamosabooks.com

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Comment by Richard V on July 22, 2011 at 1:01pm

Bob Johnston

WAITING

It didn’t rain all summer, and the wind
Blew yellow dust from Colorado, mixed
With black dirt of our own. Tumbleweeds
And dust had buried all the fences. The taste
Of blackness was always in my throat, and grit
Was in my bed. Toward the end of the day
We sat and watched the devils march across
A dirty sunset. There wasn’t much to do—
The crops were burned and all the cows had died.
My father said that next week it would rain
Because the Lord would send it. In the north
Dry lightning flashed against a black curtain.

from Rattle #23, Spring 2005

 

Dialogue

 

We faced each other through the glass.

Without the beard he looked smaller

and the gray shirt sagged

on his shoulders. He seemed

to be growing backward,

and I wondered if he

would become

a little boy again

with blond hair.

 

He said the food was okay

and I told him the frost

hadn't hurt the peaches

and his mother sent her love.

 

We went on talking

until the glass clouded

with the years between.

 

(Originally pub. in Kansas Quarterly.)

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