Rob Johnson

Rob Johnson, born in England, has lived in Australia for almost fifty years, forty-four of them in Adelaide, including thirty spent lecturing in English Literature at the University of Adelaide. He was present at the foundation meeting of Friendly Street in 1975 and has published in Friendly Street Readers, as well as in newspapers, magazines and journals, down the years. He has published a volume of poetry, Caught on the Hop (Friendly Street Poets, 1984) and has been a winner of the Henry Lawson Prize and, in 2002, of the Satura Prize awarded annually for a poem in the Friendly Street Reader. He is currently working on a second collection.

In 2001 Rob won the Satura Prize for his poem, “Nocturne: Port Elliot”.


Crossing the Mallee

Trees without trucks – just limbs
splaying up from the ground –
spiders scattered on their backs
grappling the sun –
and the road a machine belt
drumming the plain.
The places on the map
turn out to be silos.
This country gives them names –
raises them like grey
featureless cathedrals
to a God with a hard line
on inflated growth.

Imagine living
with eyes narrowed to a road
straight as the barrel of a gun
in either direction
and a heart wrung flat
in the rollers of earth and sky.

Imagine! But the blankness
is mine as much as the land’s.
It’s always a question
how visible space extends
behind others’ eyes. But I
have to come here to ask it.

Imagination beats its head
on the grey wall of the silo
testing for grain.

From Friendly Street No. 8 and Tuesday Night Live


In Memoriam

John Jefferson Bray

You always seemed to be coming
from somewhere else – a city
that was and was not the one
whose streets we both walked but you
were born in. For you there was also
an ageless city whose logic
stood for all time, whose columns
the centuries’ acid rain
could never eat into. I think
you were always of Plato’s mind
mourning the body’s decay but revering
the beauty it briefly enshrined.
At least we both knew
that the vanishing present
is not life’s only dimension – and you
could commune in their own speech
with poets long dead, give them a voice
we could hear, that was yours
but still partly theirs. And now
you have joined them in silence and we
must give you a voice. It’s strange
how we speak to the dead
as if they could hear – more easily
knowing they cannot. It’s late
to break through the reticence
that, living, we both observed
and both, I believe, understood.

From Friendly Street No. 21



Thomas Hardy’s “Poems of 1912-13”

We walk the world like a street of whores
solicited every step. You fall in beside us
quietly. You seem not to care overmuch
if we heed you or not, intent as you are
on the grain of memory, the truth a moment’s haste
would shatter. But your voice becomes like our own
heard for the first time. It reminds us
how love may dull with the years then sharpen –
death honing its edge. Fingers and voices
loosen. The street is an open road
where the dead walk from behind our eyes
to people the air. No one is left behind.

From Friendly Street No. 19