Image by Maarten Holl

Andrew Johnston

b. 1963


Rest on memory's sea-bed: we will swim down to thee. - Andrew Johnston, 'The Sunflower'

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About Andrew Johnston

Andrew Johnston is the son of an English Professor, has had a successful career as a professional journalist including working as an editor for the International Herald Tribune for many years, and now lives in France where he runs a private consultancy that helps international nongovernmental organizations (such as UNESCO) improve their written communication. He was the founder and, until 2009, the editor of The Page (www.thepagename.blogspot.com), an online digest of new poetry and poetry criticism, and he has consistently published both poetry and poetry criticism himself for the last two decades. You might say that language, and a precise and careful attentiveness to language, has been his world, private and professional, since childhood.

We see the fruits of this everywhere in Johnston’s poetry, which more perhaps than any other contemporary New Zealand poet’s obeys Keats’s injunction to “inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress / Of every chord, and see what may be gained / By ear industrious.” He has a special affinity for the sestina (and even the rare double sestina, as in the extraordinary elegy for his father, “The Sunflower” from Sol) which allows him simultaneously to stake out an allegiance to “traditional” form, but also nod to the form’s vibrant modernist (and post-modernist) life. In both traditional forms and free verse poems Johnston’s ear is constantly alert to prosodic effects. Note in “New House,” for example, the subtle plays of internal rhyme, assonance and alliteration (rain/train; other/Mother; house/doubts/drought etc.).

This is not to suggest an empty formalism. Johnston’s subjects are often small in scale but usually large in implication; family scenes and personal memories are teased at until they yield powerful meditations upon life, death and the fragility of our bonds with the past. Johnston’s “Les Baillessats,” an answer of sorts to the vexed relationship with his father, and his father’s Catholic faith, explored in “The Sunflower” records a visit to a small French hamlet in what was Cathar country in the Middle Ages. The poem seeks to record the experience for his then 16 month old son. It is a touching record of paternal devotion but the violently erased history of the heretic Cathars haunts the poem as an all-too-present absence, calling into question the very possibility of preserving memories and passing on legacies.

Johnston reads much as he writes, with a careful precision that gives the words space to allow their echoes and evocations to reverberate.
 

Additional material and useful links

The Aotearoa & Waiata New Zealand Poetry Archive

This recording, bibliography and introductory essay are kindly provided by collaboration with the Aotearoa & Waiata New Zealand Poetry Archive, a pioneering resource of modern & contemporary...

http://aonzpsa.blogspot.com/2007/12/introduction-2004.html

Selected bibliography

Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets (editor with Robyn...

Moonlight: New Zealand Poems on Death and Dying (editor...

Sol, Victoria University Press (NZ), 2007; Arc...

Birds of Europe, Victoria University Press, 2000

The Open Window: New and Selected Poems, Arc...

The Sounds, Victoria University Press, 1996

How to Talk, Victoria University Press, 1993

Prizes

1991 Louis Johnson New Writers Bursary

1994 Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Collection

1994 New Zealand Book Award for Poetry

Links

A tour of the Archive with Catherine Olver

I think it's defensible to say that there's something about any poem worth the title that asks to be read aloud....

Featured Guided Tours


Books & cds by Andrew Johnston