Peter Johnson has long been acclaimed by such poets as Russell Edson and Charles Simic as one of the masters of the prose poem. In his new book, Old Man Howling at the Moon, he continues his exploration of the genre, exhibiting his usual comic touch. Johnson calls these new poems “complaints” and traces his influences back to fourteenth-century France, while pointing out in the preface that his wise-fool Grumpy Old Everyman is also very much a part of a tradition, including writers as diverse as Allen Ginsberg, Catullus, and Nicanor Parra. Old Man Howling at the Moon is a welcome arrival at a time when anger and satire are desperately needed to enliven a contemporary poetry scene where often fashionable irony reigns supreme.
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Peter Johnson is back with a new book of prose poems broken into sentences that double as lines and succinct paragraphs. In Old Man Howling at the Moon, Johnson’s charged vernacular militates against postmodern rages, as he turns personal beefs into highly entertaining anecdotes and grievances that explode with both truth and humor. “I like those mornings when it’s just me and the dog. When I’m shoveling Froot Loops into the pie-hole of a face called Me,” he writes in his poem “The Hero with One or Two Faces.” That “hero” is Peter Johnson, whose poetic cutlery remains as sharp as ever, slicing both ways, entertaining and witnessing, confessing and “howling,” exaggerating and downplaying. I can think of few other poets today who write with such brutality and tenderness. —Chard deNiord
Whether he’s writing about fatherhood, marriage, aging, the daily drudgery of life, or the Kafkaesque absurdity of our current political situation, Peter Johnson is surprising, witty, and illuminating. He is, to my mind, one of the most provocative and exciting voices in American prose poetry.
Peter Johnson is a fabulist of the grotesque, a curator of lost causes and broken dreams, a pasticheur of imaginary styles, and a cartographer of early 21st century spleen. His prose is restlessly inquisitive and irreverent, his “complaints” alternately peevish and amused, gloomy and petulant, disillusioned and nostalgic, horny and belligerent. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in recent American prose poetry.
—Michel Delville, author of The American Prose Poem: Poetic Form and the Boundaries of Genre