Kansas City Author’s New Book of Prose and Poetry Brings Urgency and Insight to Our Troubled Times

Andrew Michael Johnson (photo by Tiffany Sauser)

A Review of Andrew Michael Johnson’s “The Thread”

Andrew Michael Johnson’s enthralling “The Thread” is two books in one: a poetry collection and a series of prose pieces. Not that either literary form takes precedence: The reader may choose either prose or poetry by flipping the book over.

What he, she or they will find is Johnson’s musings about the world, some intriguingly philosophical, others subtly but persuasively political.

Although the poetry has its virtues, there’s an urgency to the prose that lends it a slight edge and arguably renders it a more engaging and insightful reading experience.

As might be expected in a book released in 2022 — “The Thread” is Johnson’s second book, following his collection of essays, “On Earth As It Is” (2017) — references to the unsettling but apparently subsiding pandemic and the outrageously unprecedented reign of Donald Trump turn up. But the award-winning Kansas City-based author deftly avoids stating the obvious, instead offering fresh perspective on those catastrophic phenomena.

In the prose piece “Sea of Galilee,” Johnson acknowledges the cruelty and despair of the Trump era:

Today you read about families detained by your own government. Today you read about walls already going up, agents following orders of a belligerent leader. Today you tried to read your children’s faces as you explained our neighbor’s protest signs, explained how checks and balances ought to work, explained that one person and one pen, when given power, can create either chaos or order.

Another prose piece, “Prepare Ye The Way,” addresses the mandate to get back to some notion of normalcy post-pandemic. But Johnson also gives a shout-out to an under-appreciated aspect of the lockdown days:

(from the author)

The quiet streets last spring. So quiet you could take a long walk with your wife most mornings. So quiet you could walk down the middle of 39th Street without seeing a car. So quiet you could hear the songs of birds returning from their winters.

“The Thread” is not, however, all doom and gloom. Indeed, a highlight of the book is the sheer irreverence of one of its poems: “A Department Letter to Jesus of Nazareth.” Johnson perfectly captures the tone of bureaucratic correspondence as the Department states the shortcomings of the slogan “I Am the Way”:

We spent hundreds of hours in observation/ attempting to discern the direct correlation/ between the way a man lies on his back in a field/ with the sun shining warmth upon his face/ and the way the same man back at home/ beams a smile toward his children,/ but we could not quantify any of it.

Perhaps the quality that most distinguishes “The Thread” is its relatability, whichever way the book is flipped.

In America, poetry has come to be regarded as an art form that’s more respected than enjoyed, in much the same way as classical music or modern dance. And prose that dares to address the life of the mind tends to be the province of subscribers to the “Paris Review,” “The New Yorker” or “The New York Review of Books.”

But Johnson reclaims prose and poetry as means to connect with the experience of being human. And in these times dominated by misinformation, confusion and rage, that’s no small thing.

“The Thread” is available for purchase at Wise Blood Booksellers, Oddly Correct Coffee and on the author’s website, www.andrewmichaeljohnson.com. Price: $25.

Calvin Wilson

Calvin Wilson is an arts writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He is also host and creator of the jazz program, “Somethin’ Else,” on 107.3 FM and 96.3 HD2 in St. Louis.

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