Mike Johnson is a New Zealand writer whose stories and poems are touched by the magical and the bizarre. He was born in Christchurch and brought up in the lonely, small towns of Canterbury. After graduating from Canterbury University, he went overseas for nine years, teaching English as a foreign language in Germany, Spain and North Africa.
He returned to New Zealand in 1980, "itching to write and in search of a place to start". He moved to Waiheke Island in 1982, where he has lived ever since with his family.
Mike first registered on the New Zealand literary scene as a poet with a minimalist Chinese style, launching his career with The Palanquin Ropes, an award-winning sequence of poems. In 1984 he went on a performance tour with poets Susan Lees and John Pule.
For four years he published nothing but poetry, then, in 1986 burst out with the lush Lear – The Shakespeare Company Plays Lear at Babylon, of which critic David Dowling said, "One of the most remarkable NZ novels I have ever seen". His fourth novel, Dumb Show, won the Buckland Award for literary excellence and his short story, Magic Strings, won the Francis Keane Memorial competition. Several of his stories and poems have been included in anthologies.
Mike still writes poetry to keep close to the roots of the language. His latest published collection of poetry was Treasure Hunt (AUP, 1996).
Mike is familiar to many locals on Waiheke Island for his skills in the craft of marbling. He has taught creative writing for eight years at The University of Auckland's Department for Continuing Education. He has twice stood for Parliament for the Green Party and has been active in environmental politics. In his "spare time" He loves reading Dostoevsky, tramping and reading to his children.
Mike Johnson has received a number of other awards and fellowships including: co-winner of the 1981 John Cowie Reed Memorial Competition with The Palanquin Ropes; finalist in the 1986 New Zealand Book Awards for the novel Lear; the 1987 University of Canterbury Literary Fellowship, and grants for creative writing in 1985, 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1996. He is the current Literary Fellow at the University of Auckland.
singing the blues on Mt Hua
autumn winds patrol the earth desiccating everything in sight -
here I am, barely twenty, hopes turned to dust
at the first tavern with its banners flying, I pawn my coat
deep inside the jar, I remonstrate with Heaven -
the pale day turns into a thousand miles
the barman counsels me to take care of flesh and spirit
stay at home today, pilgrim
the heavens dissimulate, make faces,
the nine-headed beast will suck at your spirit
hounds unleashed, mouths agape will hunt you down
only now does Heaven’s chariot arrive
I set my horse to speed but there’s no return road -
rattling their metal armour, lethal dragons stare at me
this hermit wasted a lifetime snoozing in the grass
did the hermit lack strength of heart
rather Heaven feared they both would be devoured –
need further proof? here’s a man raving at the wall
Song of an ancient arrowhead
in this chill murk, ancient blood has bloomed
proud white feather and gold-leafed shaft
just this thin triangle, blunt wedge
eternal winds, brief daylight, truant stars
right and left ghouls, the starveling dead
I tipped the last curds from my flask in libation
insect sounds died, geese moaned sickly,
whirlwinds, blasting emerald foxfire
crooked point crimson splintered
later, on South Street, some sharp kid
© Mike Johnson and Li He (780 – 816)