Elspeth Healy, one of the special collections librarians at the Kenneth Spencer Research Collection in the Kansas University libraries, sent me a note recently to a link a little essay, "Bound for Heaven," by Angus Brown, who was researching Ronald Johnson's papers at the Spencer and was shown one of the two volumes of Johnson's Holograph Books in the collection, which includes the splendid page drawing above made by Robert Duncan.
When I first met Johnson in the summer of 1992, visiting him at his apartment on Elgin Place in San Francisco, he showed me both of these Holograph Books, which he had kept during the years he and Jonathan Williams were together, much of which was spent on the move, whether covering the length of the Appalachian Trail or wandering around England. Wherever they went, Johnson would collect signatures of the poets, artists, and other people they encountered. As I recall, one page contains Ezra Pound's signature; another, a drawing by Franz Kline. When my brother Michael and I visited Johnson in the summer of 1993, he showed us the Holograph Books at my request. Even still, they inform my sense of some of what a life in poetry involves: Meeting and talking to poets in these intersecting circuits wherever you go. The instinct to collect a page from each of them along the way continues to feel inspired.
When Johnson was dying in early 1998, he sold off much of his personal library to cover debts and obligations. This included the Holograph Books, which went to Peter Howard at Serendipity Books (no longer in operation), and then circulated for some years until Kansas and the Spencer acquired them in 2011.
Angus Brown's essay is a sweet reminder of how excellent a thing these Holograph Books are. Within his essay is a link to an enthusiastic treatment of Johnson's ARK, written by Stephen Ross, another Briton who has caught the RJ fever.