Louis Johnson was a prolific writer, and a frequent reviewer and broadcaster. He established the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, edited the quarterly Numbers, ran Capricorn Press and later started his own press, Antipodes. As editor and publisher, his policy was always to encourage unknown writers as well as including established poets.
His first work appeared in 1945 and his posthumous last poems in 1990. His constant themes include suburbia, domestic life, childhood, love (with its attendant lust) and the folly of the contemporary world.
A Wellington poet and mentor for countless emerging writers, Louis Jonson published 17 volumes of poetry over a period of 45 years. After periods abroad, in Papua New Guinea and Australia, he returned to New Zealand in 1980 to become the Victoria University Writer in Residence. Supportive of other New Zealand writers to the end, he and his wife Cecilia set up Antipodes Press in 1987 and published Antipodes New Writing, featuring a mix of new and established writers. Plans for the series never came to fruition, as Johnson died during a visit to London in 1988.
His poetry books include Stanza and Scene (1945), The Sun Among Ruins (1951), The Dark Glass (1955), Poems Unpleasant (with James K. Baxter and Anton Vogt) (1955), Two Poems (1956), New Worlds for Old (1957), The Night Shift: Poems on Aspects of Love (with Baxter, Charles Doyle and Kendrick Smithyman) (1957), Bread and a Pension: Selected Poems (1964), Land Like a Lizard: New Guinea Poems (1970), Onion (1972), Selected Poems (1972), Fires and Patterns (1975), Coming & Going (1982), Winter Apples (1984), True Confessions of the Last Cannibal (1986) and Last Poems (1990).
He was awarded the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship in 1988.