new zealand electronic poetry centre




Andrew Johnston

Recorded 10 March 2016 at the National Library in Wellington by University of Auckland digital media support specialist Tim Page.

Andrew Johnston
 Photo credit: Ethel Salducci

Andrew Johnston’s latest book of poems, Fits & Starts, was published by Victoria University Press in March 2016. His other books include Sol (2007), Birds of Europe (2000), The Sounds (1996) and How to Talk (1993), which won the 1994 New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. Andrew has lived in France since 1997. After 25 years in journalism, he is now a trainer, editor and consultant for UN agencies and NGOs.


Poem notes

'‘The Otorhinolaryngologist’ was written after a visit to a charming but quite old-fashioned ear, nose and throat specialist. The beginning and the end of the poem are true enough. The bit in the middle tries to evoke the incredible sensation of sitting in a dark room with a lightbulb in your mouth. My psychiatrist says this poem is a very good description of a manic episode.

‘Echo in Limbo’ is a sequence of 26 poems based extremely loosely on the first 26 books of the King James Bible. I like the ancient weirdness of the Old Testament, the patchwork of different genres and voices. Rather incongruously, the sequence channels the mythical figure of Echo, the nymph condemned to repeat others’ words, who fell in love with Narcissus and consequently pined away. I often have the sense that something terribly important is missing from my life but I’m not sure what it is. The poem uses Echo’s unrequited love as a way of finding images for that experience.

‘Do You Read Me?’ was started in 2007 when my son Oscar was born. In the radio alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc) the O word is Oscar and the P word is Papa (which is what he calls me). I’d always loved the words of that alphabet, so I decided to write a poem around each word. I eventually finished the sequence in 2013. To mark my 50th birthday, I made a book of the poems, with illustrations by the artist and designer Sarah Maxey. There were 50 pages, and we made 50 copies, and on my 50th birthday I gave them to my friends. (In 2014 we made a second edition, which you can still get hold of.)


Last updated 9 December, 2016