“Poetry is the closest thing to silence, which alone on earth is as close as we can get to heaven.” — from “The Ditch Was Lit Like This”
In order to place themselves in their art, poets must return to their roots. This is Sean Johnston’s return to the roots – ancestral and poetic — that have shaped his language and his consciousness. Structured in five sections, the work interplays the convergence of memory and personal history. Although such a pattern is familiar ground in the world of poetry, Johnston’s movements to establish roots through his use of the anecdotal, unexpected, and profound are both wise and revealing. We are all invited to that universal moment where “there is always a man with a guitar/ somewhere/ and the response is either love returned or love withheld – that is, of course, if something has been risked.”
As with his prose, Johnston’s poetry strives for a kind of minimalism in which the written word leads the reader to discovery, rather than by pushing a didactic discovery of something he deems to be important. The images, lines, and to some extent, the subject matter establish trigger points for involvement. The line structures and breaks are as much about the poetic rhythm as they are about this kind of triggering where the reader is signalled that the meaning may be changed or altered in the coming line. There are significant patterns of line development within the work – some relying on prosaic conventions, others using a more traditional compact pace and meaning and forms such as gazhal or those familiar free verse patterns with short stanzas.