Sunday, May 02, 2010
Review of VEINS by Larry Johnson, David Robert Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2009, 109 pages
By Barbara Bialick
VEINS is Larry Johnson’s first poetry book, but he’s been writing and publishing since the 1960s. An academic through and through, he sends historical figures into his poems in the form of dramatic monologues in iambic pentameter or other forms of free verse. He’s nice enough to provide notes on some of his characters—which include, for example, Weldon Kees, American poet, Julius Caesar, and linguist-adventurer Richard Francis Burton. If you like deciphering historical poetry from AD 406 to the present, this may be the book for you. Even after showing off his good vocabulary and poetic craft, he also manages to include some painful emotional experiences, such as his love for a married woman, and some thoughts about suicides.
He sums up his own work in the poem “Hangover in Memory of James Wright”:
“My best friend/once said that most poems have/an ordered group of images and a patchwork of philosophy/tacked on. My Coke gets flatter. Let them find/philosophy here…”
While I’m still not sure what the theme of veins, in vane, and vain is all about, I did find the word “vein” popping up here and there in various poems such as in “Death of the Bat-Poet”: ”though he can still/feel the moon’s fire pare the wind to voices, swirl in the lean mist, or sting upward/through veins of grass…bright swishing shapes!”
In “Morte d’Oscar” he writes, “my gaze is lost in veins of the leaded lampshade--/is it Mary’s chrysolite eyes I seek in the glow/or the brown-toned gardenia of the moon?”
The author presents his photo on the back of the book standing at Keats’ grave in Rome, 1997. He was born in Natchez, Mississippi in 1945, grew up in Jackson. He got his BA at Mississippi College and received his MA and MFA at the University of Arkansas.
He’s taught at Alma College, the University of New Orleans, North Carolina State University and Louisburg College. He’s also given a reading at the Library of Congress.
He writes his own wish for a legacy in the final poem in the collection, “When I Die”.
“When I die let multitudes read my pages/let someone say my words were buffed chalcedony