Andrew Johnston

Andrew Johnston is a New Zealand poet who lives 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 2007 by Victoria University Press and will appear in a British edition from Arc Publications in May 2008. In 2007 he spent a year as Victoria University’s J.D. Stout Fellow, working on a book about contemporary New Zealand poetry. He has also edited Moonlight: New Zealand Poems on Death and Dying, which will be published in July 2008 by Random House New Zealand.

Johnston comments: ‘ “The Sunflower ” is woven from many strands. In 1991 I read John Ashbery’s book-length poem “Flow Chart” and was struck by the double sestina embedded in it (pp. 186-193), which borrows its end-words (among them, “sunflower”) from a poem by Swinburne. In January 1997, newly arrived in the depths of a London winter, I was bowled over by an exhibition of Anselm Kiefer’s sunflower paintings. When my father died in 2004, my brother Peter suggested two passages from the King James Bible for the funeral service; their language stayed with me. I spent November 2005 at a writer’s residence in the north of France. On a trip back to Paris one weekend, I had a revelation in the train: I could use the double-sestina structure, and even Ashbery’s (and Swinburne’s) end-words, plus bits of the King James psalms and Kiefer’s sunflower image, to write the poem I needed to write about my father (there are echoes of many other sources in there, too). I went back to the Villa Mont-Noir and wrote “The Sunflower”. ’

Poem: The Sunflower 

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