Poems for the Planet
Altadena writer Carolyn Howard-Johnson teams with Australia’s Magdalena Ball for the new eco-poetry collection ‘Sublime Planet’
By Carl Kozlowski 04/17/2013
By the time most people start easing into retirement, Carolyn Howard-Johnson was starting a whole new career as a writer. A veteran journalist, Howard-Johnson penned her first novel, “This is the Place,” in 2001 at the age of 60.
Since then, she has produced a steady flow of poetry that has drawn both critical and public acclaim, not only in her hometown of Altadena, but on the other side of the world in the Land Down Under.
Howard-Johnson has teamed with Australian writer Magdalena Ball for a series of small collections of poetry called chap books, which have proven successful enough to merit a bigger collection, the new book, “Sublime Planet: Celebrating Earth Day and the Universe.” The collection of ecologically oriented poems covers a broad range of topics — from the loss of species and the beauty of the natural world to drought and the exploration of alternative planets.
“This is the first full-sized book I’ve done with her, and we’ve done a six-book celebration series together, honoring Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and now Earth Day,” explains Howard-Johnson. “[Ball] owns a Web site called compulsivereader.com and she reviewed my first book of poetry and honored it by putting it in her 10 best reads of 2005. We’ve been acquainted that way, in a marvelous partnership, ever since, but have never met in person.”
Indeed, Howard-Johnson notes that their differing styles — borne partly out of her city-living ways contrasting with Ball’s rural lifestyle in the country’s New South Wales region — also help make their books more entertaining for readers. Ball’s work is inspired by astronomy and the universe, while Howard-Johnson’s is “more nostalgic,” she says. “So we don’t intrude on each other and have very different styles.”
Since both women have fan bases in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, they have found that they have two advantages in marketing: Their working relationship is unique and they can pursue media for publicity in both halves of the globe.
“I’ve been an environmentalist since before most people considered themselves that,” says Howard-Johnson. “I got interested in the early 1960s. One of our reviewers for our new book liked it because it wasn’t didactic and said poetry shouldn’t be didactic. There’s a poem about a giraffe, another about horseshoe crabs with blue blood, but they all make a larger point under the surface.”
Howard-Johnson realized she loved poetry after writing her debut novel and learning that she enjoyed using metaphors, symbols and similes. She started writing shorter stories and eventually tried poetry after taking classes at UCLA from renowned poet Suzanne Lummis.
Having traveled to 85 countries, Howard-Johnson draws inspiration from all over the globe. She wrote a poem about oil freighters traveling through the Malaka Strait after one visit, while her poem about giraffes was sparked by a trip to Africa. She also enjoys reading National Geographic, which in turn has inspired other ideas, such as her new poem about crabs that have blue blood.
“What we do is we decide on a number of poems based on how long we expect the book or chap book to be, and we each do an equal number of poems, with a section for me and a section for her,” says Howard-Johnson. “Anybody who knew poetry would know the difference between our styles, but we do byline them. We read and critique each other and eventually we have a book. She’s also a novelist, so we have other things to do and the books come together quite easily. Formatting them to look like a real professional book is always the hardest part.”
“Sublime Planet: Celebrating Earth Day and the Universe” is available on Howard-Johnson’s Web site, howtodoitfrugally.com, and from Amazon at Amazon.to/SublimePlanet, as well as on Kindle.