Books by R.K. Johnston

Roy K Johnston biography

R. K. Johnston: A Life in Sound, Color, and Word by H.W. Smith - 2016

This biography is about the life of a creative artist and his journey through the worlds of music, art, and poetry. It is also a drama of great achievement, tragedy, and the struggle to be true to himself- to find his creative voice once again, and to explore the interrelatedness of his chosen disciplines toward a unity of knowledge.

At age four, Roy Johnston hears a clarinet and falls in love with its sound. This love propels him to seek out and study with the finest teachers, to become one of the best clarinetists in the country, and to travel the world in renowned musical ensembles as a classical and jazz performer.

Roy eventually becomes a university professor in the South, a conservatory dean in Boston, and director of a performing arts center in the Midwest. At age 48, his professional ambitions and accomplishments are eclipsed by a divorce, the loss of his family, and the contemplation of ending it all.

Returning to Los Angeles and the family of his childhood, Roy struggles through analysis, a new relationship, a series of fundraising positions in the arts, politics and medicine, but feels largely unfulfilled. What eventually resonates with him is musical improvisations on paintings, collecting art, and ultimately writing poetry. Rather than recreating the music of others, this time he creates and performs his own work.

Roy approaches poetry with the same passion, determination, and scholarship that propelled him to the heights of clarinet performance. This creative force drives him to write seven books of poetry in ten years and to perform his work around the world.

Behind this journey is a personality, at times larger than life and other times one of introversion and acute sensitivity. Roy is highly intelligent, passionate, quirky, and true to “who he is” – an artist who interprets life through his own lens, who demonstrates unwavering integrity, and who has earned the love and loyalty of his family, friends, students, and audiences.

Steps In Life Cover

Steps in Life - 2014

He gives poetic voice to the desecration we humans have unleashed on our fragile globe as we “leak a pool of holy water from the arctic fallen ice shelves.” He addresses corporate greed and the inaction on the part of our country’s leadership in maintaining and renewing a crumbling infrastructure: “Where is our leader? Will he embrace and explain our nation’s needs?”

Selected Poems

Fractals Cover

From Fractals, Forward - 2013

Just when you think you can identify his style, interests and poetic voice, Johnston breaks with the past by cracking language making fissures caused by his self-made creative pressure, breaking the codes of poetry and language, cracking non-essential words and leaving them raw, or hearing a poem like you need to hear jazz or study a Pollock and interweaving his political interests and call to awareness of our collective predicament in a fragile world. Johnston allows this new book to have a fresh and simplistic orientation well beyond and more at ease than his previous works.

Selected Poems

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The Wandering Circle

The Wandering Circle – 2011

The Wandering Circle is a metaphor for life's journey. From economics In a Wink to the condition of Children of India, finding roots in a Jamaican Synagogue to drifting along the McKenzie River, this collection of poems personifies a soul whose home is timeless, yet Hangs from a Spider Thread.

Selected Poems

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Metaphorically, let's just say I've had my fill of Tennessee Williams... maybe it's now time for a change in rhythm and syntax. Perhaps some Roy K Johnston is in order? Ha

Speaking of which, congratulations on your most recent work, "The Wandering Circle." I've read several of your poems over the past few days. Love "City Space." I found a particular affinity toward "Time of Anxiety" and "Renew America," among so many other wonderful works. Roy, I've discovered we may have something in common. You are an 'evangelist' in disguise... so am I.
You are a provocateur. Your work is at first, instructive and penetrating, unabashedly on the errand of revealing the truth. Layer by layer we are led deeper into your observation of irony, dissonance, and yes, consonance. This thread woven throughout your work is an invitation to the inevitable and ineffable longing to somehow survive the temptation toward hopeless hope. To resist the inclination toward optimistic fatalism. To believe in the face of all that would bid us otherwise.

- Steven Davis

Dissonance and Consonance Book cover

Dissonance and Consonance – 2009

The traditional rules of consonance and dissonance are to be freed from such musical forms. Poems that seek their own destinies evoke sound abstract compositions. I seek images that lie somewhere between representation and abstraction. Artistic intersections are also the search for correspondences between sound, color and texture in poetry. I am seeking to have a voice in poetry that contributes to future new forms. This kind of composition looks at the possibilities of the 21st and 22nd centuries. We must never stop in the quest for change. Yet, let things be their own. The stand for freedom is to live and try to understand all of the responsibilities that come from this position that is given to all of us.

Selected Poems


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Kenosis San Luis Obispo

Kenosis San Luis Obispo - 2007

Kenosis in literary aesthetics is the affect (feeling) experienced by the reader of lyric or poetry forms. It is the experience of the emptying of the ego-personality of the reader into the immediate sensory manipulation of poetics. In this sense, kenotics inflicts an experience of timelessness upon the reader.

Selected Poems

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Seeds of Tolerance

Seeds of Tolerance - 2006

Seeds of Tolerance delivers steady, soft, spoken meditations on the human condition in a time of war. Readers used to these themes delivered in a declamatory style of a poetry slam will just have to listen up: the message is powerful in a whisper as well as a scream.

Selected Poems


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The System is Broken

The System Is Broken - 2004

This collection of poems focuses on the balance of life from war and social injustice to nature and understanding. From image to image, word and photography, this work celebrates R.K. Johnston's astute poetry and the award winning Catherine Bauknight's abstract photographic imaes to create a collaboration that is a must to experience.

Selected Poems


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