Sundress: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Jeremy Johnson reads the poem, “Green” from The Seasons by Kevin Lawler.
When I think of Kevin Lawler, I think of the prairie and Omaha. For you, what comes to mind when thinking about Kevin Lawler? How would you describe The Seasons and his other work?
Jeremy Johnson: The thought portal that opens in my mind when I start thinking of Kevin Lawler is as strange as it is infinite. His work is spiritually medicinal. Lawler’s demeanor alone exudes timelessness and an overwhelming peace. I think of hanging out with him back stage in a play we were in, watching him sway as free as a summertime toddler to the jazz band opening. I think of being laid out couch-ridden in illness, and reading The Seasons over and over, until the sickness found space elsewhere. I think of his grateful eyes welling up while receiving the Theatre Arts Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, his wild hair refusing to stay out of sight lines.
I perceive The Seasons as written through the perspective of a time nomad, who rides the signs of the changing earth from moment to moment, sometimes millenniums apart. It makes the smallest things crucial and the universe seem like a neighborhood. I feel my consciousness welling over into other places when I read it. It’s imaginative, intimate, and altogether breathtaking.
Sundress: Lawler wrote The Seasons over decades, is that what gives it the sense of being narrated by a “time nomad”? Are the sections organized stylistically or by subject? I’m assuming “Green” is from the spring section?
Jeremy Johnson: The actual timeline in which Lawler took to write The Seasons definitely contributes to that time-traveling flavor of the book, but moreover, it’s just the focus and wide-spanning presence of mind with which he writes. He can watch the snow and be pulled back to the 20’s reflexively, and bring the reader with him. It is indeed organized by the literal seasons; “Green” is in the Spring section. Winter focuses on quietness, Spring on change, Summer on love, and Fall is its own aesthetic. And, really, they all have the same descriptive wandering and timeless qualities throughout.
Sundress: Out of all of Lawler’s the plays and poems, what makes “Green” special for you?
continue your silent spin.
We can fly through space
and smell wet leaves
at the same time.”
That part is everything to me. We strive to retain a reverence for the mysterious infinite as well as an equal reverence for every moment as it happens. I don’t know why, but it just makes me feel like a big awesome cloud.
Sundress: I love that ending. The scope of this poem is impressive—he manages to weave a lot together: hints of man vs nature, man vs technology, and technology vs nature, while maintaining the feeling that these at-odds are everyday. How does “Green” compare stylistically to other poems in the collection and to Lawler’s play-writing?
Jeremy Johnson: Yeah, that scope is a cornerstone of Lawler’s style. He often starts small, reaches as far as he can (in distance, time, tone), then loops it back in. Lawler’s playwriting is similar in its fluidity and explosive imagery. Outlandish props, choreography… I remember watching his play, “The Tulip” back in 07 maybe and being completely consumed by its playfulness, then eternally shaken by its tragic turn… that whole scope thing.
Sundress: How has Kevin Lawler influenced your own work?
Jeremy Johnson: Lawler has influenced me to be a better listener. My weaknesses in my writing come through the channel of ego and unfocused mind. Listening as a discipline can’t be understated.
What is essential to you as a writer or poet? What piece changed your life? Gave you hope, validated and voiced your fears, was there while you triumphed over them? What piece brings you joy? Made you laugh or grin like a fool? Who was it who made you sit back in wonder, inspiring you to be a stronger writer? We want to know. Send us a recording (or packet of short recordings) of you reading your Lyric Essential—a short story, a handful of poems, an excerpt or two—to SundressLyricEssentials AT gmail DOT com. Then we’ll talk.
Jeremy Johnson is a writer out of Omaha, NE. He’s written plays, novels, books of poems, books for kids, and movies. Amid the slow chaos of nurturing a family of two kids and a beautiful wife, sometimes he’ll knock back a bottle of whiskey with some friends at an abandoned paper mill or follow the moon down some railroad tracks, thinking of songs.
Kevin Lawler is a playwright, director, actor, producer, and poet. The founder and host of the monthly storytelling gathering “The Stories of O,” Lawler is also the Producing Artistic Director of The Great Plains Theatre Conference, a co-founder of the award winning Blue Barn Theatre, and the Artistic Director of the National Institute For The Lost.