Monday, October 23, 2017

A Brd of Rare Plumage (George Johnston: The Cruising Auk)

      George Johnston. The Cruising Auk (1959) Johnston is I think a much underrated poet. He writes light verse, intended to amuse, but he’s a melancholy clown, more attuned than most of us to the absurdities of human life, and acutely aware of the thin membrane that prevents the tears of despair from infecting the tears of laughter. Water is a frequent image in his poems, poems like stones skipped over the surface, which sink into the darkness at the end of their journeys.
     A couple of samples:

War on the Periphery

Around the battlements go by
Soldier men against the sky,
Violent lovers, husbands, sons,
Guarding my peaceful life with guns

My pleasures, how discreet they are!
A little booze, a little car,
Two little children and a wife
Living a small suburban life.

My little children eat my heart;
At seven o’clock we kiss and part,
At seven o’clock we meet again;
They eat my heart and grow to men.

I watch their tenderness with fear
While on the battlements I hear
The violent, obedient ones
Guarding my family with guns.

(See also a short note on Johnston posted on 2017-08-17)

In It
The world is a pond and I’m in it,
In it up to my neck;
Important people are in it too,
It’s deeper than this, if we only knew;
Under we go, any minute –
A swirl, some bubbles, a fleck. . . .

I’ve reread these poems several times. Many years ago, when poetry readings were in fashion, we attended a reading. Johnston was a diffident reader, he seemed surprised that anyone would take his verses seriously. But he was one of the few poets who could his poems well. Wikipedia has a short entry.  ****

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