Reviews and Features

Derek Sellen reviews SIX-COUNT JIVE in The Poetry Shed, 13 May 2019:

‘How do you tell (Sellen writes) the story of a journey from a diagnosis of PTSD to a joyful state of recovery? There are probably as many answers as there are literary forms, from memoir to myth, but Rosie Johnston has found a way – or perhaps the way has found her – which in its rhythms and language powerfully embodies the changes of such a journey. Her solution is a long sequence of seventeen syllable stanzas, three to a group until the final page of four. The thirty sections express the helplessness, resistance, rage, calm, revival of the sufferer, and many other more difficult-to-name emotions and responses to her situation, from the start to the turning point to the end, if such a process can be said to have an end.

The choice of seventeen-syllable stanzas is far from limiting; one of the wonders of this book is the variety and nuance which she imparts in such small packets of verse. These are not ‘haiku’ as such but, like the haiku, they are spare and densely significant, the carriers of reverberations and tensions it is important not to miss. She has used this form before in previous collections and her control of it is impressive. The narrowness of the form forces the writer to make each word count and the readers to pay special attention in our turn.’ Etc.

Emma Lee reviews BITTERSWEET SEVENTEENS in London Grip (2014)

It’s an apt title. The poems are each of seventeen syllables and a bittersweet feeling pervades. Loosely the poems follow a narrative from a girl searching for love to an adult woman who has missed out. The eager optimism of the girl is captured in:

Love love love, sad Rose, it’s the
only way
to grow and find your footing.

Love creeps soft as a moth’s thought,
than tomcat’s breath, light as a dove.

Two magpies argue on the roof
only two-ness brings us luck.’

Louise Richardson reviews ORION in Culture Northern Ireland (2012)

‘Johnston has compiled a richly rounded poem that flows beautifully as one piece, one entity. And yet, for those readers who prefer to dip in and out of a collection, each perfectly sculpted stanza can also be appreciated in isolation.’

Laura Wilson reviews THE MOST INTIMATE PLACE in The Guardian (2009)

On the face of it, scriptural exegesis looks like pretty unpromising material but it is transformed into the basis for a gripping, plausible and beautifully written literary thriller. This small book is nuanced, complex and wide-ranging, taking in love, hypocrisy, despair and faith. The lyrics to songs by the made-up heavy metal band Sword Rampant (such is [Johnston]’s attention to detail that the group has its own website) are worthy of Spinal Tap.’

US Publishers Weekly reviews THE MOST INTIMATE PLACE (2009)

British author [Johnston] follows her children’s novel, What You See Is What You Get , with a dark novel for adults that raises disturbing questions about faith and religion. Freelance journalist Patrick Price-Johnson reveals from prison, where he’s remanded on a murder charge, how he became obsessed with the Rev. Helen Halberd. In a flashback, Patrick interviews the attractive 46-year-old Anglican priest, who has written a controversial bestseller, Fire Down Below , for which she’s been denounced as “a blasphemous handmaiden of the Anti-Christ” for trashing the Virgin Mary. Meanwhile, Patrick’s girlfriend, Dr. Julia Nayler, wants Patrick to get the dirt on Helen, who may have had an affair with another unconventional Christian, the Rev. Neil Sarbridge, the dean of Lancaster College, Cambridge, in hopes of ridding Cambridge of the overbearing Sarbridge. [Johnston]’s needle-sharp characterization of the deranged Patrick is nothing short of terrifying.’

Claire Savage interviews Rosie in the revival issue of The Honest Ulsterman (2015) about BITTERSWEET SEVENTEENS and her father, Roy

With free verse a popular choice among many poets today, it is somewhat comforting to know that amongst all this talented work, there is still a strong current of poetic form surging underneath.

Formerly Belfast/Portstewart and now London-based resident, Rosie Johnston is one such poet who has embraced a fixed form in her writing. She specialises in creating poetry with just 17 syllables per stanza – a style some may hasten to describe as Haiku but which, upon closer inspection, stands apart from this Japanese form.’

Interview by Isle of Dogs Life (2014)

Last year I  interviewed  local poet and author Rosie Johnston, recently I  was delighted to hear that her latest collection of poetry has just been published by Lapwing Publications.

Rosie, who lives on the ‘Island’, has had a number of books published in recent years but Bittersweet Seventeens is her third collection of Poetry where she uses her own particular style of poetry using seventeen syllables for each verse.’



How much life can you squeeze into seventeen syllables? Quite a lot if you’re Rosie Johnston. Some of these poems are like tiny stories, others like soft pillows, others like pieces of ice. Read them and you’ll want to write a few of your own!’

Author and Bookseller, Vestal McIntyre


Very wicked and beautifully written’ – Maureen Freely

I doubt an ostensibly religious theme has ever been better served, or been simultaneously as scholarly, well-written, compelling, funny and, thank God, filthy. This atheist loved it.’ – Martin Rowson 

A smart and eminently readable literary thriller’ – Patrick Neate

Lyrical, thoughtful, sensual and shot through with dark humour’ – Imogen Robertson


This book is wonderful: funny, frightening, compulsively page-turning and all in all a
rattling good read’ – Martin Rowson