From the award-winning poet and novelist—a must-have collection of his four previous books of poetry plus a selection of new, unpublished work.
Lately known more for his fiction (Jesus' Son, LJ 2/1/92), Johnson attracted attention in the 1980s for a poetry that depicted a disillusioned America driven to strangeness by media addiction and consumerism, a nation of "Face-owners... impossible to impress, dead inside,/ Looking for somebody they can trust again,/Someone to make them feel betrayed one more time." This awkwardly titled omnibus collects the author's four published poetry collections, adding 16 poems written since The Veil (LJ 7/87). Sleepwalking the same moonlit territory of self-negation and despair opened by Mark Strand three decades ago, Johnson tries to spike the bleakness with complex images ("All night the moon rings like a telephone/in an empty booth above our separateness") that often devolve into confused abstractions. Where the early work can seem too somber and self-pitying, and the later poems too smug in their formulas, "The Incognito Lounge" and several other pieces still impress with their spectral invention but not sufficiently so to support a retrospective of this size.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, N.Y.