The Marks on the Map

The fourth full collection by Brian Johnstone, and his second to be published by Arc in their Poetry from the UK & Ireland series, April 2021.

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Every good poem is an expedition of sorts. In lesser work we are led towards a carefully landscaped revelation which always belongs wholly to the poet, but in the effective poem we’re set loose and, following a map partly of our own making, find ourselves at last in a distant corner of ourselves. In The Marks on the Map Brian Johnstone takes us on a remarkable journey, not just to discover what is there, but also what was there, mapping time as well as space. This is one map I would urge readers to follow, because the world through which Johnstone guides us is so utterly moving, so totally familiar and so entirely new.
           blurb by John Glenday

Surefooted in his work as cartographer of the overlooked, Johnstone takes us on an expansive journey in this absorbing collection of tributes, stories and memories as he maps out the effects of time on people and places. Throughout, we encounter that characteristic Johnstone timbre – one of respect, sophistication and, above all, grace.
            blurb by Rachel Boast


Johnstone’s poetic style is steady, lyrical, unostentatious. He favours regular stanzas, often of three lines, and internal music over accentuated rhymes and rhythms. He chooses clarity over surprise… Johnstone is adept at finding the poignant traces the past leaves behind. Home is a hope or a memory, never completely present. Time is often permeable.
                                                        Susan Mansfield, Scotland on Sunday, March 28th 2021
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Maps are a record of landscapes at specific times, representations of what a place may mean to the mapmaker, and we see Johnstone discover lost crofts, overgrown pathways,  an ‘archaeology of home’. However, the overwhelming tone of the collection is the impermanence of our knowledge – many of the poems speak of erasure, loss or abandonment. And in the final poem we wonder if all human life is as ephemeral as the drawings a child makes in the condensation on a windowpane.
                                                      Elizabeth Rimmer, Burned Thumb Blog, April 2nd 2021
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The Marks on the Map offers so many journeys, and so many Brian Johnstones. Which will you meet in [this], his most recent collection? Ask the avowed Hellenophile about nostalgia, and he will answer carefully. Tracing the etymology of that now-depleted word, he will alert you to its much more powerful and encompassing origins. That very ache in exploring the elsewheres of both a personal and a collective past is at the heart of his poetry. We are fortunate in being able to travel them all in this collection without narrowing our choices.
                  Beth McDonough, Dundee University Review of the Arts (DURA), April 5th 2021

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Brian Johnstone’s interpretation of the role of maps, landmarks and buildings in our lives is not only skilled and infused with experience, but it also provides a personal perspective that encourages us to view those roles afresh. A pivotal, beautiful turn of phrase, ‘the archaeology of home’, very much encapsulates the drive behind The Marks on the Map. There’s no instruction to the reader, just juxtapositions that allow implicit connections to be made. 
                                            Matthew Stewart, Rogue Strands Blog, April 7th 2021

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