A World in a Grain of Sand

Mosses and Lichens
by Devin Johnston
(FSG, 2019, 96pp., $23)

Attentive to the physical world and intricately wrought, Devin Johnston’s Mosses and Lichens shows a poet of fine-grained discrimination. If intentionally less lush, the play of assonance and consonance (often in iambs) is as striking yet subtle as that of Keats or Heaney. Around a colloquial core, the diction adds flourishes to make Stevens or Moore proud, Bishopian onomatopoeia (“cack cack,” “chu-weet!”), and the most individual verbs (“a lone beetle / churns across the concrete” or “A black cat … flowed along the path”). Thematically, poems may stick with the quotidian, reach into history, develop a conceit, or indulge a gag. Their common denominator is descriptive precision. Yet Johnston is no miniaturist. The book’s first poem, “Slow Spring,” is loaded with detail (“days of foam in gutters, / blossoms and snow / mingling where they fall”) routed into a network of affect: “irritation,” “connection, “confusion,” “indirection.” With space for the rhymes of the Latinate nouns not to clang, the second stanza reads: