where the writers are


Calliope Nerve Interview Series: Michael Lee Johnson
Tell us about your new book Electric in the Sun. Why is it important? How does Electric in the Sun differ from previous your work?

Electric in the Sun is a new revelation of evolving poems, new, fresh: like a new chapter in my life unfolding. It is full of all new poems and loaded with pictures to match the mood of each piece. I expect the book to be available in April of 2010.

Do you have a particular writing style?

I do but sometimes it’s hard to figure the combination of the elements out. I tend to write poetic stories with rich imagery tucked in. Or capture a brief noted moment in nature with a poetic image. Often my poetry has a nature theme or social justice concern in living, suffering, or death.

How long have you been a freelance writer? Do you make a living from the money earned writing? What advice can you give to would-be-freelancers?

Off and on I have been writing short non-fiction articles and poetry since 1966, with long stretches of inactivity in between spaces of time. I once was told if you make any money or receive a check, make sure you race quickly to the grocery stock, buy groceries and hope the check clears! I have made some money as a poet, but more as a hobby and hopefully a legacy to leave behind. I’m sure I could make more money if I would commercialize my writing to fit a specific industry, travel, self-help, etc. Writing is work and to this point I like to stay with short clips of life structure in artistic imagery. That may change in the future. But I make a real living with my full time promotional advertising imprinted apparel business I run myself. Freelancers: keep your day job and build your writing over time.

Why did you begin Advantage Marketing and Promotions?

I was running my little promotional business on the side with my main coupon advertising job and eventually got fired for conflict of interest. At that point I steamed into full gear into my own self-employed business which can be found at http://www.promoman.us/ and http://www.promowear.us/. Though the economy has been difficult the last few years, the freedom of self employment has allowed me the flexibility to work my writing, running of four poetry sites, and the arduous task of answering about 135 emails a day easier.

What's on your Required Reading list? Who is your favorite author?

Not much is on my reading list now days. Reading the submissions I receive from fellow poets, flash fiction, and doing my own writing occupies most of my free time. I have always been attached to imagistic poets, short poems, and Japanese poetry: haiku, tanka, haibun, haiga, sentry. I have never been a classical poetry form type poet, though I use other literary techniques. My world has be predominately dictated by free verse and complex imagery and poetic impersonality. Carl Sandburg has influenced me more than any other poet; but others would include D. H. Lawrence, William Carlos Williams, Irving Layton and Canadian poet and song writer Leonard Cohen. I also like the American poetry form cinquin, invented by Adelaide Crapsey.

Listen to music while you create? What kind?

Actually I don’t listen to music when I write. Often it is late in the evening or just staring out my condo balcony window looking at my lovely willow tree and the local birds I feed in the bird feeder. Sometimes, I start poems while driving in my car with a miniature tape recorder. Often I create poems out of visual works of art know as ekphrastic poetry: creating a narrative poem that represents my reactions to a painting or work of art.

Do you consider yourself an underground artist?

I guess it all depends on what you mean by underground. With a rather eccentric past, in exile during the Vietnam War, I imagine my orientation of thought as a sole and only child was bent differently. Typical of many artistic types I have suffered from bouts of depression or anxiety which I think contribute to the way or ways an individual sees the world in a slightly different color of gray. I think I’m original but not necessarily experimental. I have never completely conformed to standards or trends in behavior, but at almost 63 years old, I have cooled those jets streams down to a crawl. If underground means “independent” or sometimes “counter-culture”, I’ve dipped into that well a few times.

How do you feel about the recent explosion of e-book technology?

I really have not formulated a definitive judgment about it. I am an advocate of self publishing or print on demand technology, since in economically depressed times, with a selective limited audience like poetry attracts, finding a traditional publisher is very difficult. They have to put the money up front or take a huge risk of breaking even and they hold rights or restrictions on your works for a fixed period of time. I believe with time alternative forms of publication will become the norm rather than the acceptation. I use Lulu.com since the service is free but one must do his own formatting and editing. E-book technology is simply a conversion process of taking a manuscript or PDF file and converting it into digital formatting and having it look like a book. E-book technology publishers normally charge for this service and create a royalty structure. The good news is you can take the file with you read it on Kindle, your portable computer, Microsoft reader, etc.; but it does not feel like a book and is subject to technical problems. I must admit, I still like having a physical hardcopy in my hand.

Why do you write?

I have often wondered that. Is it a job or compassion, wired into a personal psychological make up? I have learned writing is work, likely why I keep my own exposure limited to the short but energetic poetry realm as much as possible. I also think recognition by one’s own peers in small press is a motivating factor.

You also edit several sites; tell us about some of them. Do you prefer editing or writing?

Yes I’m editor and publisher of four online poetry, and flash fiction sites all of which are now open for submissions:





Each site has a slightly different persuasion and flavor but placement often comes down to spacing, which site needs to be built up. I think I enjoy writing more than editing since spelling, grammar, and syntax have never been my forte. I can stumble with my own writing efforts but editing is a growth process for me. I just like offering artist and poet’s different places to express their efforts.

Who is your ideal reader? Why?

That’s simple: someone who likes me and my works! I have found it valuable to receive feedback on forums, from different editors with a slight different twist on a poem or a line of poetry, often their constructive comments have actually lead to a new version of an older poem.

What does the future hold for Michael Lee Johnson?

At my age, every next day is my future. I held onto my poems over 35 years before the advent of the internet and electronic submissions which has turned my life around. I continue to write new poems, polishing the old to a new look, and attempting to set the stage for a personal legacy, as of yet, not clearly defined. I’m not sure what compels a person to think legacy, but I’d like to give Carl Sandburg a run for his money in the Galesburg greater Chicago, Illinois area. The clock is ticking.