Ark

Ronald Johnson, edited by Peter O’Leary. Flood (SPD, dist.), $17.95 trade paper (332p) ISBN 978-0-9838893-6-6
The masterpiece and nearly the life’s work of a rightly revered American eccentric, Ark is a long poem in 99 parts (called “Ramparts,” “Beams,” and “Arches”), completed over 20 years (1970–1990). Prior to the poem’s publication, Johnson was known primarily for his concrete and visual poetry, and for his commitment to the modernism of Black Mountain College and postwar San Francisco. He meant his great project to be an homage to the universe, a hymn to human capacities; it joins together prophetic summonings, popular science, tranches of preexisting prose (H.G. Wells, Thoreau, C.M. Doughty, a dictionary), meditations on letters of the alphabet (“D closes, J roots, K leafs out”), visual puns (“earthearthearth,” i.e. “ear, the art hearth”), sound play (“incalculable catafalque”), and earnest prayer. Johnson, more than his peers, really wrote as if his “mutual ritual channel energies” could redeem the planet. The poem begins and ends with the U.S. space program, reaches back to ancient Egypt and the myth of Eden, and stops to acknowledge the author’s own native Kansas. Though its cosmic ambitions may remind some of Pound’s Cantos, or Louis Zukofsky’s “A”, it is more fun, and happier, than its precursors. Published and admired in sections (like the Cantos and “A”) during Johnson’s lifetime, Ark appeared complete only in a 1996 small press edition. This new edition reflects a handsome, and an editorially scrutinized, text, and deserves much notice. Even readers who find it too hermetic, or self-indulgent, or simply too hard to decode, may come away glad of their acquaintance. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/03/2014
Release date: 11/01/2013
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-9903407-0-6
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