“Riddle Iota Sublime”
Ronald Johnson’s ARK
In another world in which books would solicit their own readers in personal ads, we might find something like this: “A microparliament of minute particulars seeks alliance with discerning biomass, to synchronize liturgical summations on randonées, finger the plenitude, heave mutual sublunary satisfactions into orbit.” Ronald Johnson’s unabashedly joyous poetry, which often seems less written than pieced together with the resources of a Renaissance Wunderkammer (cabinet of wonders), has been out of circulation for so long now that to merely know of it is to be a harvester of esoterica. Unlikely as it seems, two major books of Johnson’s poetry were published by Norton in the 1960s, The Valley of the Many-Colored Grasses and Book of the Green Man. Meanwhile, the long poem ARK is at hand, its puzzling glories at last available in a Living Batch edition (the publisher’s name sounds just right).1 “Long poem,” however, is an inept and compromised term with which to refer to this book, the strength of which is that it is an assembly kit, a cabinet of curiosities in
1. Needless to say, Johnson’s earlier books are decades out of print. A carefully considered selection by Peter O’Leary from the entire corpus, including ARK, is now available: To Do As Adam Did: Selected Poems of Ronald Johnson. There is a considerable portfolio of further writings by and about Johnson in Facture 1 (2000), edited by Lindsay Hill and Paul Naylor.