Johnson wins prize for poetry collection
Palm Beach State College Professor Bradley Johnson has been awarded the 2018 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize for his collection, “Smuggling Elephants Through Airport Security.”
He will receive $1,000 in prize money, and his collection will be published by Michigan State University Press in 2020. “I’ve been working for this for a long time. The book is years of work,” said Johnson, who teaches English at the Boca Raton campus. “Having an academic press like Michigan State University back you and publish your work opens a whole lot of doors in terms of audience and credibility. This is really the goal.”
MSU’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Center for Poetry awards the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize biannually to one emerging and one established poet. Poet Carolyn Forché, who judged the 2018 established poet contest, described Johnson’s work as “a kaleidoscopic tour of the American moment.” Using poetic elements like allegory and metaphor, he writes about life in South Florida with topics ranging from hurricanes and professional athletes to emojis and rock stars.
“I have not encountered many poets as brave as Johnson, as willing to go anywhere and see what happens, all the while imagining that even here, even now, it is possible to find one’s way,” Forché wrote.
Johnson was born in Michigan and raised in Maryland, where he began writing poetry in high school. “I had good English teachers in high school. I started writing on my own and didn’t take it seriously until college. Then, I started having good professors that saw that it was a seed at that point,” said Johnson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English and an MFA from the University of Miami. “The work you produce as an undergraduate or even in graduate school isn’t necessarily good, but they invest in promise.”
Johnson, who began his teaching career as an adjunct professor at PBSC and Broward College, has long drawn his inspiration for his poetry from daily life occurrences. His first full-length poetry collection, “The Happiness Theory,” was published in 2013 by Main Street Rag, and it also focuses on life in South Florida. His work has appeared in various publications, including “Atlanta Review,” “Hayden’s Ferry,” “South Carolina Review” and others.
“There are poetic moments in the line at CVS, in the parking lot at Publix, in the left lane on 95,” he said. “What I’ve done is taken a lot of everyday common experiences and put them into poems.”
He said he plans to continue writing. “I’ve been doing it long enough; I never gave up on it because it’s something I like doing.”