poem index


Denis Johnson

Printer-friendly version
Denis Johnson

Born in Munich on July 1, 1949, Denis Johnson was raised in Tokyo, Manila, and the suburbs outside of Washington, D.C. He studied with Raymond Carver while earning his MFA from the University of Iowa. While still enrolled, his first collection of poetry, The Man Among the Seals (Stone Wall Press, 1969), was published.

During the next few years, Johnson published several collections of poetry, including Inner Weather (Graywolf, 1976); The Incognito Lounge (Random House, 1982), selected by Mark Strand for The National Poetry Series in 1982; and The Veil (Knopf, 1985); as well as four novels, including Angels (Knopf, 1983), which received the Sue Kauffman Prize for First Fiction from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

During this time he struggled with alcoholism and various other addictions. It was out of these experiences that he wrote his breakthrough volume of stories, Jesus' Son (Harper Perennial, 1992), which was later adapted for the screen.

Johnson's most recent book of poetry is The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly: Poems Collected and New (Harper Perennial, 1995). Recent fiction titles include Tree of Smoke (FSG, 2007), winner of the National Book Award and and Nobody Move (FSG, 2009). In 2012, his novella, Train Dreams (FSG, 2011), was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

Johnson is also the author of several plays as well as a collection of essays, Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond (Harper Perennial, 2001).
About his poetry, the poet and fiction writer Raymond Carver said, "Denis Johnson's poems are driven by a ravening desire to make sense out of the life lived. The subject matter is harrowingly convincing, is nothing less than a close examination of the darker side of human conduct.”

Johnson's honors include the National Book Ward, Lannan Fellowship in Fiction, a Whiting Writer’s Award, National Poetry Series, and the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction from the Paris Review. A resident of Arizona and Idaho, he died on May 25, 2017.


Selected Bibliography


The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly: Poems Collected and New (Harper Perennial, 1995)
The Veil (Knopf, 1987)
The Incognito Lounge (Random House, 1982)
Inner Weather (Graywolf, 1976)
The Man Among Seals (Stone Wall Press, 1969)


Train Dreams (FSG, 2011)
Nobody Move (FSG, 2009)
Tree of Smoke (FSG, 2007)
Jesus’ Son (Harper Perennial, 1992)


Seek: Reports from the Edges of American & Beyond (Harper Perennial, 2001)

by this poet

We mourn this senseless planet of regret,
droughts, rust, rain, cadavers
that can't tell us, but I promise
you one day the white fires
of Venus shall rage: the dead,
feeling that power, shall be lifted, and each
of us will have his resurrected one to tell him,
"Greetings. You will recover
or die. The simple cure
Here in the electric dusk your naked lover
tips the glass high and the ice cubes fall against her teeth.
It's beautiful Susan, her hair sticky with gin,
Our Lady of Wet Glass-Rings on the Album Cover,
streaming with hatred in the heat
as the record falls and the snake-band chords begin
to break like terrible
I want to say that
forgiveness keeps on

dividing, that hope
gives issue to hope,

and more, but of course I
am saying what is

said when in this dark
hallway one encounters

you, and paws and
assaults you—love

affairs, fast lies—and you
say it back and we

blunder deeper, as would
any pair of loosed