The Texture of Experience The heat has been rising all day to an incinerating pitch. At the designated hour, I arrive at the address on foot, exhausted and dusty. It’s an old, dingy residential hotel on a sunbaked street in a rundown neighborhood prowled by starving dogs, their every rib sharply outlined. When I look up, squinting against the glaring sky, what appears to be an angel with a sword in its outstretched arm is hovering above the roof. Nothing like this happens here, a man who has materialized beside me says. I start to reply, but can’t. There are things that have no name even in the most poetic language.
The Nowhere Girl I see the road narrow and forged with the dead – all the dead that tried before to cross this very overgrown dusty path sweep the dust right and left critters scurry bones scrape along pebbles eerie sound of crunch and squish oh hell it’s long hell is long isn’t it? no way to tell there’s no scriptures to follow no engraved instructions nothing for miles not a fucking period to end any forgotten sentence it’s like a great emptiness swells before me in some organic burst and I don’t know the road Y’all think I came before and am now an experienced craftsman at roading but no I’m bleeding through this teetering on a fork all twisted with gnarled branches it behooves me to stop and take a piss before going it again Eeny meeny miny…. or just take the path that looks treacherous and wrecked? if it’s a mess I’m all for it got nothing else to do and nowhere else to go
you will never have to be alone Before you I was alone like a tunnel, but I didn’t know it Birds fled from me and I believed there was a magic in my dying slowly Then in the dark night while the wind disentangled itself from my body I saw your eyes like constellations, playful but honest and unchanging A silver gull slipped down from the east My angel My angel I will carry you like an arrow in my bow, a stone in my sling I will clasp you in my arms like a moonflower vine I will be delicate because I know your heart is a paper crane and my hands are made of fire And more than anything else, I will love you My half of the moon, White fire lily Forge of blue metals Cross over my heart and never let me go
"Should Have Listened" Hanging on with what I've done before old as the years squeezing energy from me my plans ironed into the veins on my arms muscle and bone striking a constant pose I had plenty of time and plans secure in my strength and self destiny I lost the finish line in my vanity found God's Face in the dome of the sky drip of His Tears cold on my face running out from under can't be done lightning strike all the wars about to happen I should have listened to the Good Book the moon empty and stars scarring my dreams the sea calm waiting for the coming storms islands sinking with volcanoes exploding tidal waves one after another kids screaming under the shaking trees women running in all directions too pretty to spit at their disbelief and the birds flying little specks in the sky passenger jets crashing into ships skyscrapers falling into clouds of dust all that I have seen coming for years should have listened should have prepared.
Hard Core/Day One Listen up! Sit your asses down, mutants, You punk-ass buncha freaks. Shut up! Look at my hair. Take a good look. What color is it? It’s gray, isn’t it? Let me tell you something. You should be afraid, very afraid. You should take what I say seriously. Why? You see, Most men, in this profession, Unless they’re good, very good, Don’t last long enough for Their hair to turn gray. And this ‘gray hair’ is very good. ‘Very good’ at what I do. So, you candy-ass pukes, Pull your head out your ass, Pay very close attention, Do exactly as you’re told, Learn from this experience, And this will be the Greatest second grade class Ever to come from Sparta Lincoln Elementary. I Laughed I laughed In the face Of Death. In hindsight, Possibly Not The best move. No telling How things Will end up When I’m gone To The other side. Perhaps A Heavenly reward, Perhaps Endless torture And frustration If Death Remembers My Blatant affront To him. I guess I had better Bring my own Popsicles.
1. Can you tell our readers your technique for writing a poem? Please explain.
I don’t think there is a technique for writing a poem since they usually start from different places. The concept of a poem can come from anywhere. That is the beauty of poetry; it has no limits. The idea for a poem may evolve from a memory, a work of art, or an old unfinished poem. A poem doesn’t come from a single technique; it usually comes from a movement of thought. Once the flow starts, images appear, and alliteration comes with repletion rather naturally. One strategy I depend upon is a “kicker line or lines” bringing the poem together at the end, creating an ending with a mystical twist.
2. What in your opinion makes for an excellent or good poem?
To me, a good poem reflects a symptom of the author’s effort to make sense of the world we live in. We think of ourselves as so necessary as human beings, but the truth is we live, then we die. Does that make sense? I have always hated crossword puzzles. Ironically, I often think of a poem as a condensed puzzle, perhaps an idea that can’t be well expressed in regular prose writing but does well as a strong image or images. I would say I am an image-based poet. A good or great poem often expresses itself in clean, simple language that is memorable, concrete with its images, not abstract, and to the point with a magical effect on the psyche. An element of any good poem consists of an excellent and unique perspective of an idea. Using the best form to convey that idea. In my case, free-verse usually is, though not always, my form. Making wise word choices is essential and cutting out unnecessary words. Often, I find the best poems have ambiguity, evoking images and ideas that are hard to pin down. All good poems must elicit a strong emotional and hopefully intellectual response.
3. Can you tell us some of the best-known poets who impress you? Who are some of your favorite authors? Why do you like them?
Contemporary poets impress me the most. I developed a distaste in grade school and high school for poetry in general and the “great masters” in particular. I never liked William Shakespeare, Blake, Milton, Byron, etc. My first influence was Carl Sandburg, then Leonard Cohen. Many other poets, songwriters, writers, and philosophers inspired me: Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, Kahlil Gibran, Gordon Lightfoot, Margret Atwood, Irving Layton, Sylvia Plath, Sara Teasdale, and Charles Bukowski.
4. How often do you write? When, where, and how do you write?
I don’t set a schedule. I write when the moment hits me to write. I have always been a non-conformist. I find my placement when the movement hits me, and then it flows, but my rebellion ends there, and the revisions start. I am a revision freak. I have one poem I have corrected and made changed up to version nine. How do I write? I learned a long time ago to write drunk and edit sober. I am a poet, an editor, and a publisher.
5. Do you read poetry much? What or whom do you read?
I’m so involved with my six Facebook poetry groups which I administer, that I have little time left. I’m slowly editing and collating over 550 published poems into separate chapbooks for publication. I’m 74 and experienced a severe auto accident and now shingles, so time is critical to focus on my remaining goals. Now, the only poets I read are from my Facebook groups.
6. Throughout your life, has your poetry changed much? In what way?
Yes, it has changed. When young, my poetry was depressing and a way out of my own hell. Mostly lyrical simple poems. I started writing poetry in 1968, now 54 years ago. Poetry is no longer depressing but therapeutic and a passion. My simpler lyrical poems now use more complex arrangements of word imagery while remaining mostly within free-verse form.
7. What do you like about fiction novels? Non-fiction?
I seldom read pure fiction. I’m not much into speculative or experimental poetry, though I do dabble into mythological themes at times. Conversely, often some of my poems do have fictional components in them but more often based on factual content. I do read the occasional short story. Years ago, I read small books such as The Prophet, The Old Man and the Sea, etc.
8. What do you think is the role of poetry in today’s world? Throughout history?
Today, and throughout history, really are not comparable. Today there is mass and social media, and anyone can say they are a poet. The challenge is getting published by your editorial peers. In the old days, getting published was difficult. There were old clumsy typewriters, no internet, snail mail, stamps, and libraries the meaning of life is the purpose of poetry.
9. Who is producing the best poetry today? Where can it be found?
I used to think “Poetry” published in Chicago was number one, the holy grail, globally in poetry. However, with the left-wing shifts in local and national politics, staff changes to fit the concept of “Black Lives Matter” quality, variety, and esteem has slipped. Accordingly, I have been published in 2,250 plus small press publications over the years. I’m like Charles Bukowski; I’m a small press lover. A small press, just like The Beatnik Cowboy, is the heart of contemporary poetry. Small presses offer their hearts as a labor of love to poets keeping poetry alive. Anything else you’d like to tell our readers? Why have I always been good at those things that pay so little? Below are a few YouTube links to samples of my poetry. I started to write poems in 1968. There was a gap of 12 years when I realize little money was available to poets and I was forced to focus on making a living. Most poets reach “stardom” after they pass. This first poem, In the Moonlight, is a simple lyrical poem from 1969: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4SS03trey8. This second poem, Flower Girls (V2), is more reflective of my poetry today turned into song, my poem, voice Dale Adams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-gU6_U-SiM. The poem below, Deep in My Couch, has also been converted into song by Mike Turner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-z2I9Yb4no.
The full version of a recent poem in full is below.
Deep in my Couch (V2)
By Michael Lee Johnson
Deep in my couch
of magnetic dust,
I am a bearded old man. I pull out my last bundle
of memories beneath
my pillow for review.
What is left, old man,
cry solo in the dark.
Here is a small treasure chest
of crude diamonds, a glimpse
of white gold, charcoal,
fingers dipped in black tar.
I am a temple of worship with trinket dreams,
a tea kettle whistling ex-lovers boiling inside.
At dawn, shove them under, let me work.
We are all passengers traveling
on that train of the past—
senses, sins, errors, or omissions deep in that couch.
Take it, I Don’t Want it I would’ve shot myself if I had a gun back then. But that was back then. If I had a gun now, I’d give it to my worst enemy and look into their eyes as steel touched their cold hands. I’d watch reflections of doubt crowd their moons that orbit around passion, eclipsing life, as my palms crawl up mountains of grief to punch the precipice of acceptance and prove that my hands hurt because of my actions. And if your actions were the last thing that I’d experience, I’d understand, for I think I get human nature. Nature, it’s kind of funny. Anyway, I’d give you the gun. Take it, I don’t want it.
Absolutely Terrifying One thing that worries me about getting older, is that already, when I find myself reminiscing, at times I find myself veering between real memories, and plots of films, books films, songs etc. It's absolutely terrifying.
A million little pieces Run all you want. The chaser is in your heart. Kill the dangerously naive child that nests in there. It's too much work. You'll have to jump in the waves, pull the memories out before they drown. Take a deep breath. Your lungs are still alive. The mountains are watching. Feel the wind on your face smell the salt of this sea that wants to drown you. Look into the depth of you to conquer the surface of you don't just ride the ripples they won't go far they won't reach the shore. The underground current slides like a whisper beneath you skate into it, skate into you. You’ll have to go through it to escape it. Take a deep breath. Begin the downwards journey, know that you might never hold enough hope to reach the surface again. Swim downwards into the mouth of it, look at the dark face that looks from under. It gets bigger as you approach, I know. Don't pussy out. Be kind to the monster. It used to be you. It will always be you. Kiss it, do not abandon it. Don't leave nothing of you drowning. It's a pity. It’s the saddest thing of saddest things. Don't mourn you— it's too early. Help you come back. Above the surface life is waiting for you like the soft earth does the seed.
Bless Your Heart Sonnet You been conceited since the day you was born. Walkin’ around with your nose so dang high In the air, you could drown in a rainstorm! You no apple pie on the fourth of July. You no sweet tea on a warm summer day: More like spoilt milk—in case you forgot it. Struttin’ around in your new lingerie, But no one gonna write you a sonnet. I swear to Gawd woman, you smash me to bits And our time together is cattywampus. You can kiss my behind and kiss my grits. You ain’t no Georgia peach, you just pompous. But bless your heart, you sure did butter my biscuit! And when you sizzle like bacon? Cain’t resist it.