Classic New Zealand Poets in Performance (2006):
Singing to the Ancestors
Words for Blair Peach
Coming and Going
[Recorded as Louis Johnson Reads his Own Poems (Radio NZ, c.1979)]
A prolific and generous writer, Louis Johnson’s first book of poems Stanza and Scene appeared in 1945. It was followed by many others over the next forty years. He came to early prominence with the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook series, which he founded and edited from 1951 to 1964.
A Wellingtonian, and strong supporter of the other writers (such as James K. Baxter and Anton Vogt) based in that city, he soon came into conflict with Allen Curnow’s nationalist agenda for New Zealand poetry (as described in the series of canon-building anthologies culminating in Curnow’s Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1961)). The idea of a Wellington school dedicated to urban realities, contrasting with an Auckland school obsessed with regional landscapes and national identity thus came into being (the fullest discussion of this dichotomy comes in Kendrick Smithyman’s A Way of Saying (1965)).
Johnson left New Zealand in 1968, living first in New Guinea, then in Australia, where he worked as a journalist and an academic. He returned to New Zealand in 1980 as Victoria University’s writing fellow, and founded a new press and annual anthology – Antipodes: New Writing (1987). This venture was, however, short-lived, as he died in 1988 while holding the Katherine Mansfield Menton fellowship.
Interest in his work has continued to grow since his death, with the publication of his Selected Poems in 2000, and the annual Louis Johnson New Writers Award, designed to encourage young talent.
Stanza and Scene: Poems. Wellington: Handcraft Press, 1945.
The Sun Among the Ruins. Christchurch: Pegasus Press, 1951.
Roughshod Among the Lilies. Christchurch: Pegasus Press, 1951.
[with James K. Baxter & Anton Vogt]. Poems Unpleasant. Christchurch: Pegasus Press, 1952.
The Dark Glass. Poems in pamphlet, 3. Wellington: Handcraft Press, 1955.
News of Molly Bloom: The passionate man and the casual man: Two Poems. Christchurch: Pegasus Press, 1955.
New Worlds for Old: Poems. Wellington: Capricorn Press, 1957.
Bread and a Pension: Selected Poems. Christchurch: Pegasus Press, 1964.
The Glassy Mountain: Selected Poems. Wellington: Poetry Magazine, Wellington Teachers' College, 1965.
Land Like a Lizard, New Guinea Poems. Milton, Queensland: Jacaranda Press, 1970.
Onion. Dunedin: Caveman Press, 1972.
Fires and Patterns. Milton, Queensland: Jacaranda, 1975.
Coming & Going: Poems. Wellington: Mallinson Rendel, 1982.
Winter Apples. Wellington: Mallinson Rendel, 1984.
True Confessions of the Last Cannibal. Plimmerton: Antipodes Press, 1986.
Dragons 'n' Things: Stories and Poems. Wellington: Mallinson Rendel in association with Antipodes Press, 1989.
Last Poems. Plimmerton: Antipodes Press, 1990.
The Perfect Symbol: poems unpublished and uncollected. Edited by Terry Sturm. Wellington: Wai-te-ata Press, 1998.
Selected Poems. Edited by Terry Sturm. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2000.
Holiday in the Capital. Photos by Ans Westra. Wellington: School Publications Branch, Dept of Education, 1968.
New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, vols 1-11. Wellington: Reed, 1951-1964.
Antipodes New Writing. Plimmerton: Antipodes Press, 1987.