JOHNSON, Judy—poetry ‘Stone Scar Air Water’


Anthony Lynch, Cordite Poetry Review—22nd September 2013


Driven by elemental themes and images, Stone Scar Air Water derives its title from this collection’s penultimate poem as well as from the four sections that, albeit in different order, comprise the book. For Judy Johnson, ‘scar’, or scarring, its lines drawn by history and inheritance, joins the ranks of stone, air and water.

The poet’s long-held interest in history is everywhere in evidence. As Martin Langford notes in his cover blurb, this entails, in part, a shift to poems that invoke the poet’s personal history – or at least, proffer an outwardly autobiographical, first person voice – alongside other, sometimes narrative, poems that draw on the historical archive. As with Johnson’s previous collection, Navigation, the wider world is often brought to bear on individual lives.

The collection, an important addition to this fine poet’s oeuvre, is also notable for a number of poems and sequences based on time the poet spent in rural Ireland. In this, Johnson treads a similar path to compatriots such as Robyn Rowland and Diane Fahey, who have drawn on extended periods in Ireland’s counties.


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Launched 4:00 pm 20th July 2013 by Glen Phillips at Perth Poetry Club, Perth.


Johnson’s poetic voice has an exacting edge to it, demanding our attention, inciting unease. The cool polish of the surface tension, the glint of something barbarous rising from the depths.


Jennifer Compton


As with her previous books, the work in Stone, Scar, Air, Water. . . exposes a wide variety of sources to the processes of the poem. There is a new emphasis on lyrics which deal directly with her own experience, but there are also poems which display an ongoing fascination with female characters who are both courageous and vulnerable. Compared to her earlier work, there is also a new sombreness. Two key sequences – “Michelangelo’s Daughter”, which deals with child abuse, and “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”, a meditation on the coming of the Europeans, and on the damage of applied perspectives, deal with situations which are broken, and unresolved. Many of the poems about Ireland broaden that doubt about our capacity to effect benevolent change into the whole world of ancestries and endings. Assured in its use of images, deft in its management of ideas and always curious, this volume registers a resonant change of direction for a probing and accomplished poet.


Martin Langford