Andrew Johnston

ANDREW JOHNSTON is a New Zealand poet based in Paris, where he works as an editor for the International Herald Tribune. He also edits The Page, an online digest of the web’s best writing about poetry. His latest book of poems, Sol, was published in February 2007 by Victoria University Press. In 2007 he is spending a year as the J.D. Stout Fellow at Victoria University, writing a book about contemporary New Zealand poetry.

Johnston comments: ‘ “Splinters” is about my great-grandfather, about whom I knew nothing until April 2006. His son, my grandfather Frank, emigrated from Scotland in 1922, bringing with him a great silence, which he passed on to my father. After my father died in 2004, I discovered that some Scottish census and other records were available online. I dived into them and found out that my great-grandfather William had been born illegitimate to an illiterate paper-mill worker, Jean Coutts. At the age of five he was living in a poorhouse, with no sign of his mother to be found. He seems literally to have raised himself, and then seven children of his own, working as an unskilled labourer. What was he like? How much of who I am, and who my father was, comes from him? How much do we inherit? How much do we pass on? This poem — composed of splinters from the family tree — barely scrapes the surface of these unanswerable questions.’

Poem: Splinters

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