Ronald Johnson was a Kansas native who lived most of his adult life in San Francisco. He told Contemporary Authors: "I have spent the last twenty years writing a long poem titled ARK, which was completed in 1991. The work consists of three books, each of thirty-three sections: titled The Foundations, The Spires, and The Ramparts. Rather than being based on literary sources (as the early The Book of the Green Man was based on English seasonal poems) ARK was inspired by ... architectures such as The Facteur Cheval's Palais Ideal in Hautrives, France, and Simon Rodia's Watts Towers in Los Angeles.... Having completed ARK, I am currently working on the completion of rewriting Milton's Paradise Lost by excision. The first four books of this were published as RADIOS in 1977. It uses an 1892 edition in which I omit most of the text to create a Blakeian visual page and a new Orphic text of my own."
Charles Philbrick of the Saturday Review finds The Book of the Green Man a "most unusual volume ... which is both original and profoundly traditional. The reader becomes absorbed in the young Kansan as he tramps through the English countryside, discovering it with eyes that record the sights of a year's visit and that have also drawn into his brain the recorded lore of centuries.... Mr. Johnson has worked into his poem the writings of a multitude who knew ‘the green man’—from Giraldus Cambrensis to Tolkien, and including Vaughan, Smart, Blake, and the Wordsworths. This book may be called literary mistletoe, since it is both symbiotic and magical." A Beloit Poetry Journal writer states that the book is "tightly written and beautifully planned—a tribute to Johnson's imagination and scholarship."
Valley of the Many-Colored Grasses was generally very well received. According to Dan Jaffe of the Saturday Review, the poems "are frankly romantic ... they are verbal equivalents of the Rousseau paintings that Johnson celebrates, calculated expressions of the energy of the universe. These are symbolist poems in intention, but they are informed by the facts of art and flora. Writing in an often extremely elevated diction, hardly fashionable today, Johnson utilizes words most contemporary poets shun, words like ultimate, exquisite, chaos, fronds, gorgeous, and celestial. But Johnson is no purveyor of poesy. He counterpoints carefully."
Jerome Cushman writes in the Library Journal that in Valley of the Many-Colored Grasses "Johnson does not allow himself to get sidetracked into inconsequentials but ties his art to an objective world where seeing is as practical as a Kansas sunflower and as deep as Blake's visions. The sensuality of his language contrasts strangely with the ruggedness of a Kansas heritage."
Johnson died in 1998.
- A Line of Poetry, A Row of Trees, Jargon Press, 1964.
- Sports and Divertissements (contains poems written by Johnson from Eric Satie's notes, in French, to the piano pieces "Sports" and "Divertissements"), Wild Hawthorn Press, 1965.
- Assorted Jungles: Rousseau, Auerhahn Press, 1966.
- GORSE/GOOSE/ROSE, and Other Poems, Indiana University Fine Arts Department, 1966.
- The Book of the Green Man, Norton, 1967.
- Valley of the Many-Colored Grasses, Norton, 1969.
- Balloons for Moonless Nights (limited edition), Finial Press, 1969.
- The Spirit Walks, the Rocks Will Talk, Jargon Press, 1969.
- Songs of the Earth, Grabhorn-Hoyem Press, 1970.
- Maze/Mane/Wane, Pomegranate Press, 1973.
- Eyes and Objects, Jargon Press, 1976.
- RADIOS I-IV, Sand Dollar Press, 1977.
- ARK: The Foundations, Northpoint Press, 1980.
- ARK 50, Dutton, 1984.
- The Aficionado's Southwestern Cooking, University of New Mexico Press, 1968.
- The American Table (with drawings by James McGarrell), Morrow, 1983.
- Southwestern Cooking: New and Old, University of New Mexico Press, 1985.
- Simple Fare, Simon & Schuster, 1989.
- Company Fare, Simon & Schuster, 1991.
CONTRIBUTOR TO ANTHOLOGIES
- An Anthology of Concrete Poetry, Something Else Press, 1967.
- Young American Poets, Follett, 1968.
- Holding Your Eight Hands, Doubleday, 1969.
- Under 30, Indiana University Press, 1969.
- Inside Outer Space, Doubleday Anchor, 1970.
- The Voice That Is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century, Bantam, 1970.
- This Book Is a Movie, Delta, 1971.
- Shake the Kaleidoscope, Pocket Books, 1973.
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
- Stratton, Dirk, Ronald Johnson, Boise State University, 1996.
- Beloit Poetry Journal, summer, 1967.
- Booklist, September 15, 1969; May 1, 1977; December 15, 1977.
- Library Journal, June 1, 1969.
- Listener, October 19, 1967.
- New York Times Book Review, June 8, 1969.
- Poetry, February, 1968; October, 1969.
- Saturday Review, June 3, 1967; September 6, 1969.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
- Contemporary Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
- New York Times, March 8, 1998, sec. 1, p. 45.