by Jenny Johnson
The poems in this selection range from the very spare to the very intricate. They have been written over a period of nearly forty years, but Johnson has not arranged them chronologically. The reason for this is that there are some poems that are quite unlike the others created just before them – as though they were heralds of a distant future. This makes sense as much of this writing springs directly from dreams: the dreaming mind, untroubled by the distractions of waking life, often has access to memories and emotional issues hidden at other times and can detect signs of radical change at a very early stage.
Other poems create a vivid atmosphere linked to a place the poet has visited, or capture the idiosyncrasies of people both glimpsed and known well. The relationship between parent and child is frequently explored, as is Johnson’s own identity. One poem recounts a meeting with her birth mother: another provides a vignette of her adoptive parents. Yet these are more than mere descriptions. Paradox and transformation, in minor and major ways, are important keys to an understanding of this poet’s work. She seeks to be non-judgemental and has developed a spiritual awareness that has no need for any organised belief system. The music of each poem – especially when it is read aloud – is inseparable from its inner meaning.
Sometimes, Johnson uses surrealism – the imagery of dreams – to convey the precariousness of both depths and heights, which are never far away. Where the heights are concerned, it is as though the reader has been invited into a parallel universe where all the senses are more vibrant, everything is interconnected and duality is transcended, if only for a moment. Johnson is very conscious of patterns and the sense of security they can provide in a personal world where mental illness – real psychic chaos – has at times enveloped her. She is aware, however, that out of acknowledged chaos comes creativity, and this is celebrated throughout her book.
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