MAVEN REACHES MARS: Home Poems and Space Probes in Four Fascicles looks around at a world in crisis and asks, “Where am I?” and “How did I get here?” and by the way, “Who am I?” The answers come wryly, ruefully, sometimes playfully, in poems prompted by the day’s news, by fading family photos, by existential fears and poignant twin grandchildren.
Johnson’s poetry reaches out in a conversational style and, like Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, she writes the reader into the poem. These were the poets her grandmother and mother quoted so often in Kansas and Colorado, decades before Jane moved to Amherst, where Frost and Dickinson are part of the local landscape. But Johnson’s background is beyond fandom. Her early leadings coalesced in the MFA writing program at Goddard College, where she learned from such mentors as Stephen Dobyns, Thomas Lux, Louise Gluck, Robert Hass, and Donald Hall.
Jane McPhetres Johnson’s first published book is a life’s work—more than 90 poems all in one place, painstakingly edited and carefully curated over a 50-year pursuit that has largely been a solo flight. Now, with intricate drawings by Portuguese artist Maria Greene, in the pandemic year of 2020, in the narrow window between Halloween and a momentous election day, Johnson’s compelling personal and political opus Maven Reaches Mars finally arrives.