Poet Interview #20 – Michael Lee Johnson

When did you start writing?

I started to write in 1967, 49 years ago. I went into exile due to the Vietnam War era; back then there were no typewriters, no internet; I had to type poems one by one (no photo copies); using international coupons and stamps, via snail mail only, with up to a 6 month wait; and 95 out of 100 journals never responded, much less made a comment about your poems – just a photocopied rejection letter. Therefore, for many years I continued to write but not send the poems out. In 2007, with the advent of the internet, I revised poems and created new ones, and have now been published in 27 different countries. I was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes for poetry in 2015. I have always written poetry but have also had a few articles published related to correctional administration and the Vietnam War experience.

Who/what first inspired you to start writing. Who are your favorite poets?

The Vietnam War and young love started me writing. My favorite poets are many but it goes like this: Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, Margret Atwood (early poems), Sylvia Plath, and Charles Bukowski. Other influences on my writing include Hermann Hesse (German writer) and Krishnamurti (writer/philosopher).

How do you first start writing a poem? Does it come to you out of the blue, or do you have a set time where you meet with your Muse each day and let the words just … come? Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poetry?

Often writing a poem starts with a few lines that expand. Other times I get started while reading other poets. Other times poetry arrives after a few shots of Vodka. I do not set times to write because it does not flow for me that way. Yes, my idea of poetry has changed from romance, depression, and lost love to a form of therapy that is realistic, and is a positive influence in my life at this time. I have expanded from self-centeredness to helping and encouraging dormant poets get started by finding their poetic wings. I read about a famous female poet (whose name I cannot remember) that gave up on poetry because she “found no reality there.”  I do not look for reality in poetry; no one knows what reality is.

Are you on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how? Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they? What are you reading right now?

Yes to all the above related to social media exposure. My background is social work and for the last 20 years advertising. I am active on Facebook, an administrator for a Facebook poetry group: Contemporary Poets, Their Works, Current Poetry Projects, News, and Links; at this time the group has nearly 2,800 members: https://www.facebook.com/groups/807679459328998/

I’m on twitter/Linkedin/Google +/Stumble Upon/Pinterest/YouTube. As of this writing, I have 89 poetry videos on YouTube and over 40,400 views: https://www.youtube.com/user/poetrymanusa/videos.

In the last year, I have been going to a few poetry critique groups and poetry reading groups here locally in the Northwest Chicago suburbs.

What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are trying to get their work noticed?

This is the most important question here. When I created the poetry group: Contemporary Poets, Their Works, Current Poetry Projects, News, and Links, I noticed right from the beginning the latent talent embedded within the members of the group. One man contacted me and told me a brief of his story – 60 plus years, been writing for years, and had not done much with his writings. I read them and found a diamond in the rough. His name is Ken Allan Dronsfield who now you can find as an established poet online. There was so much talent I decided to invest my time collecting poems from members and now we are near completion of a poetry book titled “Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze”. I am the editor-in-chief, Ken is my Coeditor, and there will be 52 poets from this poetry Facebook Group in the book. Since this book project began around 3 months ago, about 10 or 12 members (so far) from the group are now establishing themselves as published poets. I am so proud of this group.


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Scott Thomas Outlar hosts the site 17Numa.wordpress.com where links to his published poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, reviews, and books can be found. He is a Best of the Net and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Scott's poetry books include: Songs of a Dissident (Transcendent Zero Press, 2015), Chaos Songs (Weasel Press, 2016), Happy Hour Hallelujah (CTU Publishing, 2016), and Poison in Paradise (Alien Buddha Press, 2017). Scott is a member of The Southern Collective Experience; he also serves as an editor for Walking Is Still Honest Press, The Blue Mountain Review, The Peregrine Muse, and Novelmasters.

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