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Ronald Johnson

Ronald Johnson

The Book of the Green Man

Valley of the Many-Colored Grasses


The Shrubberies






Ronald Johnson was born in Ashland, Kansas, on November 25, 1935, and moved with his family to Topeka in the mid 1950s. He graduated from Columbia University in 1960 and traveled extensively. His first book of poetry, A Line Of Poetry , A Row Of Trees, 1964, contained many  specifically Kansas poems such as "Quivira" (partially quoted below).  Over the next 32 years, he published seven other major books of poetry as well as a long metaphysical poem titled ARK, created over a 20-year period.  He also had a parallel career as a chef and caterer and produced five cookbooks on American regional cooking.

In 1993, Johnson returned to Topeka and is remembered by many here for his part-time work as a cookie baker at Ward-Meade Park. The gardens there inspired him to write The Shrubberies, the sequence of highly condensed poems which bridge common experience to the universal in a way that is both precise and ecstatic. He died in Topeka on March 4, 1998.

As a "poet's poet," Ronald Johnson is admired by many of the new generation of American poets. Extensive discussions of his work have appeared on Internet magazines, such as Octopus and LVNG, as well as in several recent books of poetry criticism.

Much of the above biography is attributed to the website:  
( produced by Carol Yoho, Washburn University. A more complete biography by Eric Murphy Selinger is available at: (

Selinger's biography is a part of an entire website the arches: A RONALD JOHNSON SITE (

Ronald Johnson on Wikipedia.

For more information about Johnson and his work, see: Ronald Johnson: Life and Works, a collection of essays gathered by Bettridge and Selinger (National Poetry Foundation, May 2008, 670 pp.--link below).

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Published Work  


A Line of Poetry, A Row of Trees (Highlands, NC: Jargon Press, 1964); most poems republished as the first section of Valley of the Many-Colored Grasses (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969)
Sports & Divertissements (translations from Erik Satie), (Dunsyre, Scotland: Wild Hawthorne Press, 1965; second edition, Urbana, IL: Finial Press, 1969);
Assorted Jungles: Rousseau (limited edition, San Francisco: Auerhahn Press, 1966; reprinted in Valley of the Many-Colored Grasses)
GORSE/GOOSE/ROSE and Other Poems (Bloomington, Indiana: Fine Arts Dept., Indiana University, 1966); Sun Flowers (England: John Furnival, 1966); Io and the Ox-Eye Daisy (Dunsyre, Scotland: Wild Hawthorn Press, 1965; anthologized in This Book is a Movie: An Exhibition of Language Art and Visual Poetry, Jerry G. Bowles and Tony Russell, eds., New York: Dell, 1971)
The Book of the Green Man (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967; London: Longmans Green, 1967)
The Round Earth on Flat Paper (limited edition, Urbana, IL: Finial Press, 1968)
Reading 1 and Reading 2 (limited edition, Urbana, IL: Finial Press, 1968)
Valley of the Many-Colored Grasses (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969)
Balloons for Moonless Nights (limited edition, Urbana, IL: Finial Press, 1969)
The Spirit Walks, The Rocks Will Talk (translations from Le Facteur Cheval and Raymond Isidore) (Highlands, NC: Jargon Press, 1969)
Songs of the Earth (San Francisco: Grabhorn-Hoyem Press, 1970; anthologized in An Anthology of Concrete Poetry, Emmett Williams, ed., New York: Something Else Press, 1967)
Maze / Mane / Wane (Pomegranate Press, 1973)
Eyes & Objects (Highlands, NC: Jargon Press, 1976; ten poems reprinted in the journal Screens and Tasted Parallels 1, 1989: 4-12)
RADI OS I-IV (Berkeley: Sand Dollar Press, 1977)
ARK: The Foundations (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1980)
ARK 50 (New York: Dutton, 1984)
ARK (Albuquerque, NM: Living Batch, 1996)
To Do As Adam Did, Selected Poems of Ronald Johnson, Peter O'Leary Editor (Talisman House, 2000)
The Shrubberies ( Flood, 2001)
Radi os (Flood Editions, 2005)

A more complete bibliography is available at the website of Eric Murphy Selinger, DePaul University:

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Writing Samples  

The following excerpt is from "Quivira," one of Johnson's earlier works that is specific to Kansas:

O Coronado, all country
is round to

those who lose sight of the

         Canceas, Cansez, Kansies, Konza: the Indian word

         meaning smoky,

                           from an atmospheric condition

         in the fall of the year, called

         Indian Summer:

smoke in the air,

in Quivira.                                                   A Line of Poetry, a Row of Trees (1964)


Also from the same volume, the last stanza of "Sunflowers":

                                                                                  But the common Kansas
                              is a composite so prolific
                                                                                 it has species
                                                 without name--
                                        speckled & pungent,
                                                                                 it will cover whole fields
                                                           in summer.
                                                                                 Among mullein, thistle, milkweed
                                                                                 as a 'murmuration'
                                                       of starlings--
                                                                  of bees:
                                                                                 it wheels like
            skies of a shaggy, & many-headed,

Other excerpts may be accessed through the following links:

from The Shrubberies by Ronald Johnson

Blocks to Be Arranged in a Pyramid
      (photograph of broadside)

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Review of The Shrubberies by Brad Haas

The National Poetry Foundation is publishing Ronald Johnson: Life
and Works
, Edited by Joel Bettridge and Eric Murphy Selinger.  It will be available later this summer.

George Laughead writes that Kansas Heritage Group has links for Ronald Johnson, at  

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