The PK Featured Poet 19 – Philip Johnson

"Bungled my way through, really.  Images come from all directions.  Have even woken in the middle of the night with them demanding to be set free from my head.  I always keep pen and paper by the bedside for such times.  Once the idea is out I can turn over and go back to sleep.. " - Philip Johnson

Philips's poetry is unique. He has developed a style of observation and form which demands a lot from his readers. You have to involve yourself in his poetry to really understand where it is comming from, and where that is is life, his work and his battle with Crohn's Disease. Each short poem is apparently part of a much bigger poem, confessional and autobiographical they provide a glimpse through a carrage window raising many more questions than they seek to answer. (Jim Bennett)

Featured Poet 19 – Philip Johnson

Tell us something about yourself.

Born Davenham Hospital, Northwich, Cheshire 18th July 1960
Schools: Winnington Park Primary, Hartford Secondary, Mid Cheshire College of FE.

Diagnosed with Crohn's Disease 1982.
Resection Op April 82.

After 23 years remission am presently undergoing treatment to a recurrence of Crohn's which has rooted itself deeply into the ring of stitch and scar tissue left by that resection for which further surgery may be required.

Employed presently as a Care Assistant

Member of The Board of Directors at The Princess Royal Trust Cheshire Carers
Centre - 10 years.

Co-opted to Northwich Town Council 1993

My knowledge of poetry really is little and neither can I claim to be that well read. 
Though, I  always enjoyed reading the likes of Roger McGough and Spike Millighan
and the funny limericks which turned up in comics I found poetry a disinteresting
subject at school, couldn't engage with Shakespere or Chaucer etc. 
Too old fashioned.  It was in the late 1980s, after a long term of unemployment,
I went back to college where I was guided into poetry
by tutors: Jane Dunkerley and Tony Davies.  For as long as I can remember I
had been writing what I felt were song lyrics but Jane and Tony showed me
how, with a little edit, what I really had was poetry.  I started to read
more.  Found I liked Thomas Hardy, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath and so many
others.  Then, while fishing, I heard on my walkman radio a BBC Radio 4
programme on poetry and politics and heard how words can be used to sting
(The pen is mightier than the sword).  From there on I determined to try to
develop my works.

My mother always said I was an awkward beggar!  I contracted Crohn's Disease
at age 20.  It meant 18 months off work while doctors played around with
medicine to try and control the condition then finished up in surgery when
they failed (that's because I'm one of the awkward beggar's meds don't work
on).  After resection surgery I enjoyed 23 years remission until Christmas
2004 when CD recurred right back in the join where I was stitched back
together.  Have spent the whole of the last year in and out of hospital on
and off work while the doctors play around with my medicines trying to
control it but am not yet back in remission.  Seems whichever way I turn I
always end up on my (that's because I'm an awkward beggar).

How/when did you start writing?

I think I've been writing since I picked up a chalk and started to scribble
on the wallpaper, doors, floor tiles - anywhere but on the blackboard which
came with the chalk.

Was there anything that particularly influenced you?

Bungled my way through, really.  Images come from all directions.  Have even
woken in the middle of the night with them demanding to be set free from my
head.  I always keep pen and paper by the bedside for such times.  Once the
idea is out I can turn over and go back to sleep.
I never took any exams prior to leaving school so I went back into Open
Learning through my local college (I'm an awkward beggar) where I went to
learn algebra and came out with GCSE English Language (?)  It was during Eng
Lang class I met 2 tutors, Jane Dunkerley and Tony Davies, who guided my "words"
from what I thought were song lyrics into poetry. 

Yes, its all the fault of Jane Dunkerly and Tony Davis.

Do you have any strong influences on your writing now?

I pick up from so many angles but its usually from the extremes I am
inspired.  The likes of  by Roger McGough, John Hegley, Spike Milligan,
Thomas Hardy, Sylvia Plath

How do you write? Do you have any particular method for writing?

I try to join in with set topics but, by far, my best script comes
spontaneously.  It can be from
something I hear or see.  Some might call me a day dreamer.  I've just got
to let it pour out of me or I won't be able to find any peace.

Do you make much use of the internet?

I simply do not know how I ever managed to live without the internet..  When
I had to give up both work and my social life to care for my father through
his dementia the web was my only outlet.  Perhaps once we all have video
conferencing the electronic writers group will exceed the live group all

Why poetry?

I can't draw as well as I would like to be able to so I have to portray
cartoon moments in words.  I write.  Always have written.  As long as I can
remember I have been scribbling down my thoughts.  I wrote what I thought
were song lyrics until the tutors mentioned in answer to Q3 helped me
condense my works toward poetry.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

That algebra I wanted to learn came about as a result of my doing some
training on the electronics bench while unemployed.  My history of Crohn's
Disease tended to scare off potential employers.  Government cutbacks meant
I couldn't get a place on the course I'd been working towards without the
ability to calculate using algebra.  So, instead of becoming an electrical
engineer, I transformed into poetry.  Well, we all have to be flexible these
days.  And, that experience I picked up caring for dad, helped me into my
present post as a Care Assistant which is perfect for me as it allows me to
read my works to live groups 5 days out of 7.


This was the week the medics and surgeons started to argue over treatment and who could give me best outcome.  A weird week which started with medics telling me they could pull me through then the surgeons claimed they should have me and then I was told they were to discharge me.  I felt the surgeons had lost the initiative as my symptoms had been brought back under control and my bloods were in order again so they were letting me home in the knowledge I'd soon backslide.

Ward 15,
Leighton Hospital,
Cheshire 10 / 08 / 05

(Flutters and Grumbles)

have not made much sense of today
only yesterday they were talking surgery
tomorrow I'm wanted out,


i watch from the window as an ambulance screams past
my belly flutters and grumbles

Self explanatory, really.  But, its probably the best reason for why I never achieved any qualifications from school.  Inability of teachers to inspire me or the trait of those with a creative streak, who knows?

Often we don't know where Philip's head is
(teacher's comment on a school report)?

would be football
on the way home from school

a vision

maybe one day to pick up the "Jules Rimmet"
if not done for in the mean time

beaten almost daily

new shoes were always scuffed
and my ears always cauliflowered

result of a clout from ma

Why are my girlfriends always so distant - Josie in Lyon / London then Georgie in Huddersfield (I use soap)?

Modern Relationships

modern relationships
you in your bed and me in mine
miles apart.

when did we last make love?

have we ever made love or is the love we make not really love at all
but lust?

do we take each-other like dogs nowadays?

Re: news Ian Brady was fed up with his lot and wanted to be allowed to starve himself to death

there is a new mischievous glint in his eye.

he has his pencils
and crayons

he uses to draw scenes
of children
in various stages of

it seems to be the devil
takes his fancy
with one clenched fist
holding up the wailing head
of a female accomplice

the devil's head he has substituted
for his own
nights he roars with laughter
where he used to weep
mornings his cell has a stink
of putrid flesh

he is adamant he is going to change places
any day now
there is a new mischievous glint in his eye
half a smirk on his lips
calmly he whistles
a familiar tune of the sixties

Thinking about the question: Where do poems come from?

This writer's thing

tears and temper
torn paper
early to bed

stomping all the way

the words won't come
at least not as envisaged


"its all scribble and cross out, unoriginal,
lines of cliché - reads like prose, notes
not verse"

I picked up the scraps he discarded
and found a haiku I entered into a competition

something from within
words that out from conscience scream
pencil and paper

this writer's thing
how later

in the middle of the night I heard the

frantic pitta-patter of fingers on keyboard
come from junior's room

Asked to read for the children at my local primary school on World Book Day.  I really wanted to produce something special for the occasion but, as hard as I tried for several days beforehand, I could come up with nothing.  Disappointed   On the eve of the event I'd resigned to the prospect of having to read old material, and bursting for a wee, I discarded my keyboard and made for the bathroom.  There, as I reached out to open the door, this little beauty came out of the shadows to scuttle across and then down the door.  I could hear my father telling me to leave it alone (a quick wee and I ran back to my pc to air dad's message, and a twist of my own).


just caught

says spiders are
because they
eat flies

our house is
full of them

love them
so much

keep them in
pull off all their legs
put their bodies in a

like them especially
my sister mistakes
for peanuts


I was at work when I heard a news report about police finding a terrorist's den inside which a devastating chemical weapon could be produced.  And then I thought about the time at which the den was raided and the time at which the news broke, and then of the fear of the neighbours wondering if any of the chemical had come into contact with them

News Report

frost if not snow
white over


pale face
over ricin


less than a grain of salt
assures death within 36 hours
minus 32

My Crohn's Disease having flared up I found a website support group who, were having a get together and invited me to join them.  Couldn't actually go due to health and work commitments.  But, I thought about it and, as a single man, I thought about the possibilities.  Just too soon after losing Georgina who, was also a Crohn's patient.  The one lead to the kind of naturally to the other into which I put Caroline, actually a nurse who noted my lack of visitors when in hospital (my best friend Georgie deceased November 04.  My Crohn's flared xmas week).  Caroline provided a cake on my birthday.  How could I ever reveal the reason for my loneliness?

note no. 93

(a) well

a coin thrown in
hope the chick at the bus stop

our eyes meet
she smiles

a heavy old diesel engine

her lips were that close


(b)  Guess we're all between here
and there somewhere?

Air kisses with chick near bus stop by mock wishing well.
Never mind. My cursed luck produced note no. 93

On a platform at Crewe station spot girl from my arts class,
we seemed to spark over coffee

(think maybe)?

She said her name was Caroline and I called out to her on approach.
Best not to dwell over missed opportunity

She watched as I tripped over my own shoe lace and stumbled
head long into a lamp stand.

Knocked myself out!