Denis Hale Johnson was born on July 1, 1949, in Munich. His father, Alfred, worked for the United States Information Agency and was variously posted to Manila, Tokyo and Washington. His mother, the former Vera Louise Childress, was a homemaker.
Mr. Johnson, who studied under the minimalist writer Raymond Carver at the University of Iowa, counted Dr. Seuss, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, T. S. Eliot and the guitar solos of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix among his influences, primarily for poetry.
He was sensitive to the “language of people jammed together, like in the military and prisons,” he told the Santa Monica radio station KCRW’s “Bookworm” podcast.