Nicholas Johnson is the new Featured Writer. This is very exciting because he is a very Devon poet as you’ll see but far, far wilder than most! His poetry is incredible to read and electrifying to listen to. (A DVD comes with his latest publication.) Imagery and form are often audacious but always breathtaking/ mindjolting/ jawshaking.
Michael Morpurgo wrote, ‘He is a writer alert to the cadences of speech. His particular interest in those workers who are the last in a generation to work the land by hand, uncovers and captures a richness of language that might otherwise vanish.’ His is poetry to return to time and again to discover new extraordinary figures of speech, linguistic explorations.
Nick started up Black Huts Festival in Hastings, an intriguing mix of writing, film and music, all based on specific places. The brochure really made me want to go to everything. He is also a publisher or rather a book-maker: Etruscan Books produces distinctive and remarkable poetry on lovely paper with understated covers. (I think you have to get invited!) Here are their contact details: etruscan books 07905 082 421 or firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve known Nick for ages but he isn’t in Devon nowadays so we don’t get to hear him read any more. He is indeed rather like this Etruscan flautist come to think of it. And he knows all sorts of other wild, modernist and experimental poets so when he’s around my being fairly normal makes me feel rather dull!
To help readers understand his work I am going to quote from the whole of the Outroduction to And Stood Upon Red Earth All A Round,
‘Alone in deep forest up a mountain beyond the Valley of Fear seems a good place to dig into the heavy sod that is And Stood On Red Earth All A Round. Up here there is the hum of wind through pine and the chatter of water over frozen rocks, up here the bluster can move the tiles on the roof. It is winter and civilisations trudge through the landscape with clod heavy boots. They have done so since eversuchawaysback. It is not always a kind place and still bears the traces of Albigensian terror through French Inquisition and blind slaughter.
I seem to have kicked myself loose from the modern world. I come here to hide from my own internal chatter, increasingly afeared that we might yet succumb to the activities of men that would stake our future on a belief system not yet out of nappies. Self-imposed monotheistic mind torture.
This is a place of contemplation and meditation and it is up here that as antidote I am reading Nicholas Johnson. He speaks as he finds, commits to paper and then busies himself with the fine-tunings of his musings.
This is not John Clare, who is also up here,
But kindred spirits dancing in the firelight:
Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind
And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:
There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,
And the half-roasted dog squats close and rubs,
Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;
He watches well, but none a bit can spare,
And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:
‘Tis thus they live ….
The Gipsy Camp – John Clare
Back there we share a kennel and in this kennel (dog by his side), Johnson tries to make sense of his own internal chatter. If the words aren’t to hand then he makes them up, gaps and misalignment working as render for his meter.
I get carried along by the singsong; invariably discordant and impenetrable to my mind’s ear. All words flowing into the next. I keep going. An arcane and joyous text.
What’s crossed your mind reader?
Something in sight of the page
Yes, he talks to me, ambiguously, first as a friend and now as family. I burrow into Pelt and Pine Apple and Show hoping that through some small revelation a meaning might grow. I’m lost, plodding onwards nevertheless because the words work as familiars, they warm me and reassure me and outside it’s started to snow.
So there you have it.
Here I am:
Cold with moon streams
on your shoulder blades,
cold in stalls
of broke mouth lambs
run these fingers, long’
by Andrew Kotting
… See what I mean? (that’s me)