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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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Bibliography ( - housed in Thomas Fox Averill Kansas Studies Collection)  


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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