In 1973, a teenager named Brian K. Johnson read a poem to a girl, Wendy, whom he liked.

Nearly 40 years later, Johnson has published his first collection of poems, called "Mountains Moved" much of it inspired by that girl Wendy, who is now his wife.

"It's an eclectic collection of poetry, different things that I've thought about over the years, things maybe my wife and I have discussed over the years, anything from romance to metaphysics to social issues, in different kinds of styles," said Brian, who lives in Mays Landing with his wife.

The book, which was published in June, features 56 poems that cover topics like illness, love, social issues and more.

About four years ago, a series of hardships - a personal battle with depression, Wendy's developing a chronic illness, and his mother and mother-in-law's struggles with Alzheimer's disease - led Johnson, whose creative production had waned, to begin using his words as an outlet.

He started performing at a Haddon Township-based poetry reading called Poetry in the Park three years ago, and when he was asked to be a featured poet at one reading, he realized he might be able to expand his 20-poem-strong body of work into a full volume.

"All the drama was going on, but as things progressed I said, 'You know what, I better just go ahead,'" Johnson said. "I was feeling more and more of the momentum to get the book finished."

The book takes its title from the first poem in the collection, called "Mountains move with each handful of soil," which Johnson says is an extended metaphor about the daily struggle with life.

Challenges manifest themselves as obstacles in a person's path, he explains, and as we dig away at them, we place the piles around and behind ourselves as protection.

"You may have a goal or challenge in front of you, but with each handful, with each instance of work, you find yourself able to accomplish a great deal because with each handful, there's a lesson," Johnson said.

While Brian was using his creative instincts as a way to deal with his stressors, Wendy used his work as motivation to keep herself fighting her illness.

For 20 years, Wendy has suffered from an infection that she said is a complication from treatment of Stage 3 Lyme disease, and which has in the past few years caused her chronic, crippling pain. One poem in the collection, called "Today I stopped to breathe," which is about regrouping at each new hurdle, has held great meaning for her.

"With each thing (the narrator) did, when he stopped to breathe, each time it gave him more courage in the poem, and that helped me to say, 'OK, I can stand and do this one more day,'" Wendy said.

For more information about Johnson or his poetry, visit Johnson's book is available on his website, at and, and in Wendy's store, Herban Legend, which is in Historic Smithville in Galloway Township.

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