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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 20: 15 Sept. 2023
Review: 334 words
+ Poet’s Note: 117 words
By Michael Loveday


The Fireflies Around Us by Kendall Johnson


I absolutely loved this collection of non-fiction pieces—it reads like nothing I’ve read before and all the better for that. It’s a wise and humane book about the world we live in. It alternates equally between two kinds of non-fiction writing: prose paragraphs and haibun (a prose paragraph with a haiku attached after it). The haibun on the left-hand pages generally contain economic information, contemporary political news, or scientific facts about society. The prose paragraphs on the right-hand pages are most often the compressed biographies of individuals (the famous and the non-famous) who have overcome odds to thrive as creative people, or who have performed acts of heroism, often in overcoming political oppression.   Cover of The Fireflies Around Us, by Kendall Johnson
(Click on image.)
Arroyo Seco Press
(April 2023)
Cover art by
Kendall Johnson

These prose paragraphs also contain stories of random acts of kindness/rescue towards those who are suffering. There is a beautiful interplay manifested in the collection, across its two types of material: an interplay that locates individuals within the wider forces of society, and gives us perhaps equal reason to hope or despair. The reader is left to decide themselves, but the unspoken invitation may be to side with individuals who have courageously chosen hope or striven against the odds. This interpretation seems justified because the collection, as I see it, is subtly weighted overall in favour of transcendence—as well as the transcendent stories of individual achievement; each of the bleaker pieces of news on the left-hand pages is followed by a haiku about the natural world (with each haiku only elliptically/enigmatically connected to the prose that precedes it). This additional, very musical note of the non-human seems to invite the reader to reach towards something more beautiful, something greater than our human lives:

woodpeckers unseen
leaves drop through the canopy
caressing shoulders

There is something in this collection that calls to mind J. Robert Lennon’s Pieces for the Left Hand (2005)—but really Kendall Johnson is very much doing his own unique thing here, and I feel enriched for reading this book.


—First published at Goodreads (30 August 2023); appears here with author’s permission.


A Note From Kendall Johnson

I wrote Fireflies Against Darkness two years ago, and More Fireflies last year. My hope is that they can gently remind readers that while the barrage of newscasts we receive tell about the spectacularly bad things happening worldwide, the hysterical anti-science “false news” claims, the threats to democracy, the slide to war, the breakdown of environment through our own toxic life style—those aren’t the only stories. We would do well to occasionally turn off our sets, curb our fight or flight responses, and look around us. There are wonders everywhere, and people doing wondrous things. I couldn’t help but create a third collection. Fireflies, I call them. They light my darkness.

Michael Loveday
Issue 20 (September 2023)

is a fiction writer, poet, and creative facilitator. He works as a Visiting Lecturer at Bath Spa University, where he teaches flash fiction and prose poetry on the BA Creative Writing. He also works freelance as a coach and mentor with creative practitioners of all kinds.

Michael’s debut poetry pamphlet, He Said/She Said, was published by HappenStance Press in 2011. His first full-length work of fiction, the hybrid novella-in-flash sequence Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018), was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Best Novella Award.

Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash, Michael’s craft guide to the novella-in-flash form, was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in spring 2022 and was supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. This book won the Reader Views Awards 2023 Silver Medal Award for Writing/Publishing, and was a Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2023, National Indie Excellence Awards 2023, and International Book Awards 2023.

His fourth publication, a chapbook of short-short stories called Do What the Boss Says: Stories of Family and Childhood, was published in November 2022 by Bamboo Dart Press.

Author’s website: https://michaelloveday.com/

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

The Novella-in-Flash: New Ideas, New Forms, a compendium of information in blog form; includes details about Michael Loveday’s Mentoring Programme

Extract from Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash (May 2022) at Bath Flash Fiction Award

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