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Updated: Mar 9, 2023

An Interview with Michael Lee Johnson


Good morning, ILA (International Literature and The Arts) Magazine readers. Today I had the honor of interviewing Michael Lee Johnson. Before we begin, I wanted to share his bio with you: Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era. Today he is a poet in the greater Chicagoland area, of Illinois. He has 275 YouTube poetry videos and is an internationally published poet in 44 countries, has several published poetry books, has been nominated for 6 Pushcart Prize awards, and 6 Best of the Net nominations. He is Editor-in-Chief of 3 poetry anthologies, all available on Amazon, and has several poetry books and chapbooks. Michael has over 453 published poems. He is the administrator of 6 Facebook Poetry groups and he is a Member of the Illinois State Poetry Society.


1. Carl Scharwath: Good Morning, Michael, and thank you so much for your time today. I hope you are doing well. I first discovered you on your Facebook poetry groups and was amazed at how huge in members they are. What made you start this time-consuming endeavor, and why?

*** Michael Lee Johnson: All poets suffer from a labor of love. All true poets spend much time, like Jesus, helping others. My 5 or 6 Facebook poetry groups started about 2012 with Ken Allan Dronsfield and myself. As we got to know members personally, my commitment to poet-seeking growth became a mission. You can't be a great poet, if only in your mind, without taking time to help others. Over the years, I have helped many poets lacking security, gain confidence, at least to the extent of asking for help and exposing themselves. Over the years, the entire group has grown to about 33,000 or now, 34,000 poetic writers worldwide, and I know many personally. The rest of the story is too long. I had a severe auto accident, and while in rehab, I created a second Facebook account since having no access to my home standalone computer and password. When I returned home, using my home computer and my newly acquired handheld device from rehab, Facebook algorithms noted 2 different devices coming from 1 location. They banned me permanently from Facebook "for my own security."


2. Carl Scharwath: When did you first start to write poetry, and what inspired you to begin: *** Michael Lee Johnson: I started writing simple verses in 1968. Elementary prose poetry. Like most young folks with abandonment, loneliness, and displacement issues, poetry was a way out of hell. Poetry, when young, is often a secretive private matter-afraid to share. I have learned over the years not sharing is a selfish personal act. God, in your way, offered you words of expression; not to share is nearly an old fashion definition of sin.


3. Carl Scharwath: What best advice can you give a new poet? *** Michael Lee Johnson: Survive. At one time, and for years, poetry was harmful therapy but essential at times. With pillars of support, an owned condo, a loving cat named Nikki for 22.5 yrs., a self-proprietor business, and a long-term relationship with a friend named Carol - I moved from therapy to poetic joy. I own poetry now; it no longer owns me. I'm free ripping and writing to the world. The key: "Never let anyone steal your joy." A few suggestions for young or old poets. Avoid expensive contests and the urge to get published with them. Some contests are legitimate and help offset the expenses of publishing time and effort, but many attract novices who need to say they have been published. Focus on supporting and getting published first through small press poetry publications, they are the lifeline to poetry and its future, and you are being judged and read likely by editors who are poets themselves. I would also add, beware of Submittable and other submission managers platforms - not that the platforms are not useful - rather, editors use them to control writers: when they submit, how they submit, outlines of their requirements for their convenience, not the young growing poet or old poet for that matter. Editors using submission managers take your time away and often end up charging submission fees I refuse to pay. I have spent much of my life helping others for free as a labor of love which poetry is at the core.


4. Carl Scharwath: How do you use social media as a writer? *** Michael Lee Johnson: I'm a self-promoter. Since poetry never pays much monetarily, who will if you don't promote yourself? I use social media wherever I can find an outlet. Unfortunately, I have learned a painful lesson. You are vulnerable if the social media site is a privately owned place, you have placed your entire life on. You are at the mercy, especially Facebook, which owns about 80-90% of all social media. Often these sites are primarily monitored by algorisms, not human beings, or human beings as a last resort for redemption. You can be accused of violating community standards when your only sin is running multi-sites and helping others but posting too often; or having more than one account. In my case, an account on my standalone computer and an account in rehab after a severe auto accident trying to stay in touch with my members. I was banned permanently when they noticed I had two accounts functioning from the exact location. This is my experience and my opinion only. Lesson: focus on what you do have and always be looking for alternatives to expose and get yourself out to the world at large.


5. Carl Scharwath: Who are some of your favorite poets, and why?

*** Michael Lee Johnson: My original mentor was Carl Sandburg. Like many, I tried to imitate him and did a great job working with my voice compared to the few real videos of Carl I could find on cassette tapes, CDs, including the internet. I am/was a huge fan of Leonard Cohen. I spent 10 years in exile due to the Vietnam war and met Cohen once, which altered my life. I loved his early poems and have many verses about Leonard Cohen; some are on YouTube. There were many others, not all of them poets: Sara Teasdale, Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood, and yes, Charles Bukowski. I also followed the poetic works of Canadian poet Irving Layton. Besides poetry, I enjoyed Jidda Krishnamurti, Khalil Gibran and Ralph Waldo Emerson.


6. Carl Scharwath: Being both a writer and an editor, what is the best advice you can give to those who submit their work to journals, and what is the number one reason you would have for rejecting their work? *** Michael Lee Johnson: I'm likely not the best person, poet, editor/publisher to ask that question to - I am a poet of the people. I have more issues with publishers and occasionally editors than with poetic writers. Please refer back to #3, advice for young poets. But on the practical side, turn-offs for me as an editor/poet: fancy fonts (don't try to make your font style, selection, substitute for a good poem) - editors catch it as an amateur every time. Avoid cliches, overused, or totally abstract concepts such as the word "soul." The "soul" to man of us is accurate, but what the hell is it? Elevate the ordinary to a different higher plane using concrete imagery. Poetry is simple, taking you to a place you thought familiar but feel now in a cloud all about you, wondering about the mystery it leaves as a feeling within you. *** Carl Scharwath: Thank you, Michael, for our interview; ILA Magazine and group wishes you good health and success, and we are inspired by your journey.

Below, Michael Lee Johnson shares some of his latest poems with ILA magazine.


Debbie Knows the Wind (V4) The wind comes from opposite poles, travels slowly, gets lost, & often collides. The warm south wind doesn't always touch the face with the north wind cold. Debbie turns inward into this deep air of despair. Dan walks inside a cloud of his own, hardly noticing her. She readies herself for him, shakes out her hair waits for the phone to ring. She makes up her eyes to charm him. She smiles nonstop when Dan is nearby. The sun warms her teeth when she is smiling walking in the cold, it's still winter. Inside her heart are gold-filled teeth the tip of her tongue drags across her vision moistens the shine, deepens the color of gold, the tint intention. Dan brushes the dust from his suit. He straightens his tie. He smokes African reefer during his vacations His fears & visions suffer. Dan is on his way to see Debbie,

& they're already calling each other sweetheart but the wind is strong, and currents could carry them in different directions. And the north wind is strong, the south wind is everything. © Michael Lee Johnson


Candle of my Night (V4) In the candle of my night I see you blinking your eyes, pink with a magnanimous a vocabulary of mythology, a Nordic star, shy, shining in blindness, resorting, shuffling back and forth like a loaded deck of cards, lead-weighted - your lost teardrops through the years, your esteem. Quarter plugger dollar player jukebox sing-along, you're but a street slut, musical bars and chairs. You stretch your loins over the imagination of penises like a condom. Protected, fruit preserved on your spreading branches. You wake up with sun tone memories then the darkness, those mythical

tales and lost poems of the Poetic Edda or Marvel comics. You urinate morning dreams, thoughts, remnants away. You aren't my first memory - candle by night. © Michael Lee Johnson


Bowl of Black Petunias (V2)

If you must leave me, please leave me for something special, like a beautiful bowl of black petunias - for when the memories leak and cracks appear and old memories fade, flowers rebuff bloom, sidewalks fester weeds and we both lie down separately from each other

for the very last time. © Michael Lee Johnson


Dying Homeless (V2) My name is nameless my time is old newspaper news. I pass on this naked body, dried bones.

I leave behind my blanket and my dirty pillow. I was lucky. I died wish fulfilled in muddled dreams, cleansed, and escaped in fog. Did I leave shelter behind, my tarp and scraps, a few snacks, and that hygiene kit Salvation Army? Can I still redeem this $5 gift card at McDonald's or Burger King? Hypothermia convinced me she was my angel; that no one knew my real name. She lied. Beneath this bridge was always my home - I called it paradise. © Michael Lee Johnson


Fears Fall into Rain (V3) Fears fall out; let them fall, walking face forward, sleet in this rain. My aging umbrella opens to my remaining years. Generalized fears, all shades mixed in gray, seldom realized, but I know them all by their first names Near night, I heard this last call, red-winged blackbird before dusk. Saturday, October 31, 2020, Covid-19 turned everything black, mixing the confusion a few yellow feathers stroked in between. A partial penumbral lunar eclipse takes a chunk of faith out of our sun. White webbed ghost hands collapsed nearby my maple tree, squeezing out excessive words. Everything is personal. I hear my typewriter, Smith Electric 220, from the past, stroking keys hallowed be these sounds - Halloween, fall, sleet, all this rain.

© Michael Lee Johnson

As mentioned above, though we will post again, if you would love to view all, or some of the 275 of Michael's videos, you may click on YouTube.

Some of Michael's anthologies and publications can be found here: Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze

More of Michael's books can be found on Lulu: Challenge of Night and Day, and Chicago Poems (day), Challenge of Night and Day, and Chicago Poems (night), The Lost American: A Tender Touch & A Shade of Blue, The Lost American II: From Exile to Freedom. I'm most positive if you search out his name or the titles off his books, you will definitely find on Lulu.


Carl Scharwath is from the sunshine state of Florida. He is the Art Editor of Minute Magazine and a Contributing Editor/Interviewer at ILA Magazine. His work appears globally, with 150+ journals selecting his poetry, short stories, interviews, essays, art/photography, and most recently, plays. Carl is the author of four books.


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