Halvard Johnson

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Halvard Johnson

Genre: Writer




                “Nothing is more irritating than those works which                ‘co-ordinate’ the luxuriant products of a mind that                has focused on just about everything except a system.”                                                       --E. M. Cioran

  What is there to know about Halvard Johnson? He was born in Newburgh, New York, in 1936, the son of a Methodist minister and his wife. He lost his childhood in New York City and in small towns in the Hudson Valley--Middletown, Kingston, Yonkers. He also lost his religion. For years he was limited to walking, running, and sleigh-riding--until he took up biking. When he was delivering newspapers, he passed long, hot summer afternoons riding out onto the black-dirt flats just outside Kingston, New York, learning that being lost didn’t matter as long as one knew where one was.
  In 1955, he graduated from high school in Yonkers, New York, (just outside New York City) and traveled to central Ohio, where he pleasantly passed the next four years at Ohio Wesleyan University, waiting on tables at a local restaurant and learning a lot about the finer points of playing Ping Pong. He majored in English and philosophy there, learning little about either. He spent the summer of ’58 hitchhiking around the US, and the following year experimenting with a nine-to-five life in NYC before setting off to do graduate study at the University of Chicago, where he lucked into an MA in English and began to earn his so-called living as a teacher of composition, recomposition, decomposition, and sometimes littering . . . I mean, literature.
  The autumn of 1964 saw him driving into El Paso, Texas, to begin a four-year stint teaching Miners. Then, in 1968, as friends went off to Chicago to be bludgeoned by the local constabulary, he shipped off to Puerto Rico, where, in a little mountain town called Cayey, he dozed through faculty meetings conducted entirely in Spanish, and taught classes in which students who had just come to Puerto Rico from New York and couldn’t speak a word of Spanish sat right next to students who lived fifteen minutes away from Cayey, couldn’t speak a word of English, and had never even been to San Juan. During these Puerto Rican years, he put together and had published his first of four collections of poems.
  Four years later, Johnson was on the move again. This time to Europe, where he and his wife spent a year as vagabonds, wandering the roads of GermanyAustriaYugoslavia, Greece, Italy, and Switzerland in a Volkswagen camper. In 1973, he began to teach for the University of Maryland at various army posts and airbases in Germany and, briefly, in Turkey, transferring to Asia to do more of the same in Japan and South Korea.
  In 1984, he returned home to the US (you can go home again) and resumed his East-Coast life, along with all his childhood allergies to . . . well, you name it--dogs, cats, trees, grass, mold, the poetry of Rod McKuen, and so. His years abroad had left him permanently twisted, permanently bent--always able to see the US as being every bit as weird and strange as anywhere else he’d ever been.
At the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an artists’ so-called colony just north of Lynchburg, Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, he met Lynda Schor, a writer and artist he is delighted and amazed to be the hubby of. Together Johnson and Schor shared ten years in Baltimore, before cutting their ties (almost all) there, and removing to New York City, where they live today in an apartment house just a short walk from the apartment house Johnson lived in as a boy, and from PS 41, where he attended kindergarten and first grade. It’s also only a few blocks from the dismal walk-up on Morton Street where Johnson lived during most of his “nine-to-five” year.
  Let’s see, what else? Oh, there’s his so-called career as a writer . . . as a teacher . . . as a writer. Well, let’s be kind. He has a taxman who doesn’t snicker when he identifies himself as a writer/teacher, even though the amount of money he’s made from writing is roughly equivalent to the amount of money he’s found on sidewalks and in parking lots. Back in the late 60s, he was walking along the Rio Grande with someone who suggested he send a manuscript to someone. And over the next ten years or so four slim volumes were published. These you can find online at the Contemporary American Poetry Archive. There’s Changing the Subject, which consists of poems Jim Cervantes and he wrote online at the Blue Moon Cafe listserv over a period of six or seven thrill-packed weeks back in the summer of 2002. That book was published on genuine hold-in-your-hands paper by Red Hen Press in Los Angeles. It’s also available via Amazon.com, etc. There are free online chapbooks available at xPress(ed).
Appendix:  For what it's worth (FWIW), Johnson would be mad as hell to read that his life after all that's written above has been a mere appendix to that, and he'd probably be right in feeling that way. It's just been a few years since most of that was written, during which time Lynda and he have discovered (for her) and rediscovered (for him) Mexico, where they've been spending more and more of their time in San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato. San Miguel (SMA) lies on mountain slopes in the central highlands of Mexico, at an altitude of about 6,300 feet--about one foot for every gringo in a town of 80,000, most of them complaining about how many gringos there are in town nowadays (compared, say, to the late 40s, when there were maybe five or six, most of them complaining about how many gringos there were in town). Johnson's usual snide response to such complaints is, "If you want to see a lot of gringos, try living in New York."