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The bio sheet that came with this little book of poems claims that Frank L. Johnson’s work is thought of highly in the poetry community. The selections collected here are not prime examples. The overwhelming majority of the poems—trying to focus on everyday things and events to make them thoughtful—distract the reader.
Johnson’s style, time and again, is to write in quatrains. The four-line verses are filled with near- to no-rhyme lines that are fighting for a rhyme scheme. One selection, “On Being Sensible,” is arranged in couplets, but when read, would find a better fit arranged as quatrains. Oddly, an imitative take on one of my all-time favorite poems finds its way into the book twice. The title of the poem is “Let Your Dreams Mature” and it wavers from the quatrain versing by holding its own as a single, five-line stanza. The message seems to be the same as Langston Hughes espouses in “Dream Deferred” but Johnson’s poem leaves the reader wondering whether he really gets it.
Some of the selections start well, but lose steam in the reading. For instance, “Dreaming Out Loud” gives a comical view of one brother teasing another who began talking in his dreams. This selection starts with a bang and ends with a whimper. “Henry’s Drinking” is a nice little two stanza poem which would find its ranks among the great if the second stanza were omitted.
Having said that, there are some redeeming selections in the book: of specific interest would be the poem “Show Me the Way” found on page 29, and the closing selection entitled “You Said You Couldn’t Do It. But You Did.”
In his favor, Johnson has kept the book short (only about 39 selections, rarely over a page in length), and the design of the book shows his intention. The selections themselves look more like a journal than a collection of poems, and might work better as prose to get the writer’s thought across.
I can only award the collection one and one-half reading glasses, and wish Dr. Johnson more success in later projects.