Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ronald Johnson, The Shrubberies, and Topeka, Kansas

Ward-Meade Park, the place where Ronald Johnson worked as a gardener before he passed away, can hardly be called a park as much as a garden. There is a memorial in his name there, thanks to Robert Webb's--Topeka's Ronald Johnson scholar--push to place a plaque where Johnson worked and baked cookies in the afternoon. This is also the place where he wrote The Shrubberies.

I sometimes wonder if he flipped off the Phelps clan on his way to work, leaving his father's house on Gage Blvd. to pass by one of the spots Fred et al like to line up by. As a gay poet, he could do his work in San Fran in a time where, back in Kansas, it felt like all of Topeka was populated by Fred Phelps types. It was during the Eighties when my mother came out, met Sondra, and my life with two mothers began. Things changed around here in the Nineties, as much as around the country I guess, but I still feel the oppression--I still feel like we are on the margins.

In Eric Keenaghan's "World-Building and Gay Identity" found in the book Ronald Johnson: Life and Works, Keenaghan states:

According to Gilles Deleuze, literature's ability to produce a social "health" or a pragmatist social change "consists in inventing a people who are missing" (4). This desirable end is produced by writing out of, and then beyond, available material and liguistic resources. For Deleuze, a minority literature cannot invent a missing people, but a minor one does just that. The former merely articulates and gives a representive voice to an already established communicty or identity group. The latter, however, self-consciously uses style to deterritorialize language by pushing it to its limits, rather than reproducing codes.

As Keenaghan is placing this into the context of ARK, this can also be said of The Shrubberies. For years, I could not find the language to describe who Sondra was to me. Even "other mother" seems like I am denoting the Other, when, in fact, our relationship is far from the construction made on the Other.

Tonight the Ronald Johnson Reading Group formed by Joe Harrington is coming to a close, and we are discussing The Shrubberies in Topeka. What better town to do this in! Thanks to Bob Webb, we have a meeting place. I'm hoping that this completion will kick off another journey through my own work, as I try to piece this all together as it seems it fits in my mind.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I'm in the midst of RADI OS, and I'm amazed at the ingenuity and placement the words are in--keeping the original Paradise Lost placement intact. I've also ordered THE MS OF MY KIN--a take off of The Poems of Emily Dickinson. It makes me wonder, what book would I choose to "black out?"

The RJ group is wonderful, pushing me to read his work.

Also, just great people involved.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ronald Johnson Reading Group

Thanks to Joe Harrington, we organized last Friday night at Genovese in Downtown Lawrence. I met with great people, refreshing to be with poets and poetry enthusiasts. We are starting with Green Man, going to To Do As Adam Did, then with RADI OS, and ending with The Shrubberies in Topeka!

On another note: When I envisioned the "superhero" for my poetry manuscript, I didn't know he existed. Meet Radius!