William Johnson is a Pacific Northwest–born poet and educator. Johnson tells us, “I first heard poetry in the voice of a fiery Scots Presbyterian pastor, a charismatic man with a rough musical baritone, who read from the King James Bible. Hearing him recite some of the psalms made the hair on my neck stand up and wave.” He attended Whitworth College before earning his MA at SUNY Stonybrook and his PhD in Medieval Studies at the University of Denver. As he says, “I began my ‘career’ as a teacher/scholar and loved teaching poetry best. When I ceased living my head, and in that surrender embraced a deeper immersion in life, I began writing poems.”
Johnson’s poetry publications include chapbooks At the Wilderness Boundary (Confluence Press, 1996) and Dogwood (Limberlost Press, 2010) and a full collection, Out of the Ruins (Confluence Press, 2000), which won the Idaho Book Award. He is also the author of critical study What Thoreau Said: Walden and the Unsayable, (University of Idaho Press, 1991); memoir A River Without Banks (OSU Press, 2010); and children’s book Little Bear Stories. His poems have been published in many journals, among them Poetry, Mother Earth News, Poetry Northwest, Leftbank, and Texas Review.
The Idaho Writer in Residence from 1998 to 2001, Johnson has received fellowships from Fishtrap, the Environmental Writing Institute, the Idaho Humanities Council, the Idaho Commission on the Arts, the University of Montana’s Environmental Writing Institute, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Johnson shares with us, “Despite the isolating inwardness of the mind, we live in shared, co-inhabitable zones with others, from diatoms, to animals, on up to the limits, angelic or otherwise, we intuit but can’t fathom. Spirit—Thomas’s “green fuse [that] drives the flower”—is present within, beside, and around us. Sometimes, if we’re attentive, a word or image lights, and life is new again. The task, impossible as it seems, is to help it, every moment, remain fresh and alive.”
Johnson taught for many years at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. He lives in Lewiston, Idaho, with his wife, the painter and writer, Cheryl Johnson.
More William Johnson
Text: Read poems by Johnson from Poetry
Text: "After Barnswallows" and a statement from Johnson at the NEA