The Flapper Press Café: The Poetry of Michael Lee Johnson
Updated: Sep 2
By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Café is honored to feature the work of poets from around the globe. Today we share the work of Michael Lee Johnson.
Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era and is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada. Today he is a poet, freelance writer, amateur photographer, and small business owner in Itasca, DuPage County, Illinois. Mr. Johnson is published in more than 2,013 new publications, and his poems have appeared in 40 countries; he edits and publishes ten poetry sites. He has been nominated for 2 Pushcart Prize awards for poetry in 2015 and 3 Best of the Net (2016, 2017, 2018). Check out his over two hundred twenty-four poetry videos now on YouTube. Mr. Johnson is a member of the Illinois State Poetry Society and is editor-in-chief of the poetry anthologies Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze and Dandelion in a Vase of Roses, and Warriors with Wings: The Best in Contemporary Poetry.
We reached out to Michael to ask him more about his influences and inspiration.
FP: How young were you when you first realized you could be a poet?
MLJ: I started to write in 1967, 52 years ago; I’m now 72.5 years old. I went into exile due to the Vietnam War era; then, typewriters, no internet, type poems one by one (no photo copies), international coupons, snail mail only, stamps, 6-month wait, and 95 out of 100 never responded, much less made a comment about your poems—just a photocopied rejection letter. So for many years I continued to write but didn’t send the poems out. In 2007, with the advent of the internet, I revised old poems and created new poems and have now been published in 38 different countries.
FP: How do you give birth to a poem? How is it conceived and delivered?
MLJ: A poem is a spirit that comes out of frustration, or naturally if I'm drunk or looking at a beloved willow tree in the summer wind, thunder, and rain. How do you deliver a baby poem in clinical conditions like this without the nurses thinking you're insane?
FP: How long does it take you to write a poem?
MLJ: How long does it take you to live your life, or just one day of it, or even one hour? I have some poems on first write that have stood the test of time, I have other poems with editorial suggestions and my changes that have lead up to eight revisions on one poem that comes to mind. A poem can be stagnant or ever evolving. I have a few boxes full of old partial poems, always there open for review or to die on old yellow paper or napkins from 10–35 years ago. Where do I place time on these things? Life chances, events unfold, social structures evolve, so should poems, but some things remain where they were born, to stay there with a smile of justice done indeed. I have computer files and old boxes full of what I call “starter poems.”
This is the story poem of the Cocopah Indian tribe and their journey over the years. The River People descended from the greater Yuman-speaking area, which occupied lands along the Colorado River, and the Cocopah Indian tribe had no written language. However, historical records have been passed on orally and by outside visitors.
Native I Am, Cocopa (V3)
Now once-great events fading
into seamless history,
I am a mother, proud.
My native numbers are few.
In my heart digs many memories
forty-one relatives left in 1937.
Decay is all left of their bones, memories.
I pinch my dark skin.
I dig earthworms
farm dirt from my fingertips
Baja and Southwestern California,
its soil and sand wedged between my spaced teeth.
I see the dancing prayers of many gods.
I am Cocopa, a remnant of the Yuman family.
I extend my mouth into forest fires
Colorado rivers, trout-filled mountain streams.
I survive on corn, melons, and
pumpkins, mesquite beans.
I still dance in grass skirts
drink a hint of red Sonora wine.
I am a mother, proud.
I am parchment from animal earth.
This is the story of "sin" in the big city. The movements on a night. Life reflects our behaviors, or is it our behaviors that reflect our lives? Behaviors without redemption reflect our beginning, but surely lead to our ending.
Juice Box Girl
(After Midnight Moments)
I'm a juice box girl,
squeeze me, play me
like an accordion,
box-shaped, but gagged edges.
Breathe me inside out,
I'm nude, fruity, fractured,
Chicago, 3:00 a.m.
you will find me there
stretched naked, doing
the Electric Slide,
taking morning selfies
upward morning into the sun
then in shutters
those Greek lovers
Little Village, Greektown
so many men's night faces fading out.
Wash cleanse in me.
I'm no Sylvia Plath
in an oven image of death
I resuscitate; I'm still alive.
Sweet Nectar (V2) is about my attempt to create feeders for Hummingbirds suggested to me by a poetic friend from Delaware. So cute these little critters about the size of a human thumb and a brain the size of a grain of white rice, which is enormous for their tiny bodies. So far, only 2 have shown up to my 2 feeders on separate occasions. I love birds and animals, more so than the human animal, sounding so unsophisticated to my "more" refined social acquaintances. I love little critters. I live much of my life enjoying nature, a feature offered by God.
Sweet Nectar (V2)
Daddy wants to see a hummingbird.
devil in feathers,
Illinois baby come to me,
challenge my feeder
sip up, drain nectar,
no straw needed.
You are a master of your craft.
My thumb your measurements
your brain 1-grain size
white rice the same as mine.
Your vision impeccable
clean your glasses thick and sticky,
murky migration into your
miracle little boy
prove 2 me you
are the real Wild Bill Hickok
dancing with your Calamity Jane
tick tock, a year there, year back,
3,000 miles across the saltwater
the route to Mexico, traveler
landing South America,
shake the dice toss them
Will you return hummingbird
daddy is on the blender,
mixing new formulas
bright new color nectar.
Rochdale College was patterned after Summerhill School (Democratic “freedom school”) in England founded in 1921 by Alexander Sutherland Neill with the belief that the school should be made to fit the child, rather than the other way around.
Freedom School, I Exiled in Time
Chased by this wild, I was a black wolf of time
freedom extinguished me-
I died on borrowed time,
I died on hashish,
I died on snorting cocaine,
I died on the “H” man, heroin,
LSD, acid passed around hallucinated me
into Disneyland without my house slippers.
I nearly jumped 18 floors without hemp,
straight down breaking through plate glass,
Jesus invisible was my invincible Superman.
I nearly died listening to
American Woman, Guess Who,
they feed me downers for my overdose.
I nearly died in a small room
balling an unknown little bitch from Montreal.
All those little pills in dresser drawers, yellow, pink, and red.
I nearly died, Yonge Street, with hippy beads,
leather purse, belt, fake gold chain, and small pocket change.
I went the way I didn’t know where to go,
searching for heaven ending at entrance
hells gate, Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
Let me fluoresce, splatter red on the asphalt
of my exiled heart.
Let me follow the freedom school,
Summerhill, England, free love.
—Toronto, Canada (1972)
FlapperPress launches the Flapper Press Poetry Café.
Presenting a wide range of poetry with a mission to promote a love and understanding of poetry for all. We welcome submissions for compelling poetry and look forward to publishing and supporting your creative endeavors. Submissions may also be considered for the Pushcart Prize.
1. Share at least three (3) poems
2. Include a short bio of 50–100 words, written in the third person.
(Plus any website and links.)
3. Share a brief backstory on each submitted poem
4. Submit an Author's photo and any images you want to include with the poems
5. Send all submissions and questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org