Shadow Act

Shadow Act

By Daniel Brock Johnson

In his second collection—a powerful act of documentary poetics a decade in the making—Daniel Brock Johnson chronicles the perils and joys of fatherhood alongside a shattering tragedy that plays out thousands of miles away. Nearly two years after the poet’s closest friend, journalist James Foley, went missing, he was executed by ISIS in Syria. In this poetic daybook like no other, Johnson often speaks directly to his missing friend—“I don’t know, Jim, where you are,” even long after his death.

Page to page, Foley haunts the book—as the poet hails the birth of children, recounts hunting for the body of a neighbor’s missing cat, and, later, pores over the hand-written pages that Foley smuggled out of a Libyan prison in his shoe. Johnson crafts a vibrant, urgent collection that pulses with the terror and hardship Foley faced, the anguish of those he left behind, and the everlasting friendship between the two men. During a time of great collective trauma and mourning, this heartfelt, formally rich collection tackles the question: “How do you go on living, loving, and creating in the face of unthinkable loss?”

Daniel Brock Johnson is the author of How to Catch a Falling Knife, published by Alice James Books. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, the City of Boston commissioned Johnson to draft lines of poetry for the twin memorials that stand near the finish line. Johnson’s poetry has been featured in outlets such as National Public Radio and PBS NewsHour and in a variety of publications including Tin House, Best American Poetry, and I Have My Own Song for It: Modern Poems of Ohio. Johnson has received awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Poetry Center of Chicago, and elsewhere. For nearly a decade, Johnson served as the founding executive director of 826 Boston. Currently, he works as Mass Poetry’s executive director. Learn more at

“These poems – both stark and loving – are an act of documentary poetics, an archive of a life, and a tribute to a friendship. Daniel Johnson presents us with the facts of James Foley’s life, and the echoes of his death. Foley, in these pages, embraces the shadow, even as he is—always—moving into the light. A question is asked: ‘What do we do with the body?’ And the heartbreaking answer comes: ‘And what do we do, what do we do without?”

Nick Flynn

“Reading Daniel Johnson’s Shadow Act, I feel like I got to know Jim Foley all over again. His character is both elusive and wonderfully present, if mainly in brief, sharply illuminated bursts. Johnson evokes his eerily resonant smile, always with one eye towards the horizon, in deft, darting language that doesn’t waste a word. Jim’s comings and goings, in and out of often exotic locales, contrast with the intimacy of Johnson’s domestic life, the love within a family that grows steadily and continuously over the course of the book.”

– Clare Morgana Gillis, one of the journalists captured and detained alongside Foley in Libya in 2011

“Death may take away a lot of things but not our words, not our stories, not our memories, and certainly not our desire to shape meaning in the face of all the darkness. The world may deliver terrible things, but it can never outweigh the music of friendship, beauty, insight and courage. These poems are simple in the very way that oxygen is simple … and just as vital. Johnson has done something that James Joyce called on us to do: to recreate life out of life.”

Colum McCann, National Book Award-winning author of Let the Great World Spin and Apeirogon

Book Proceeds

Proceeds from the sale of Shadow Act will benefit the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, advocating for the freedom of all Americans held hostage abroad and promoting the safety of journalists worldwide.

Book Information

ISBN: 978-1-944211-84-4

Pub Date: August 2023

Format: Hardcover

Price: $18

Press: kelly forsythe –

Distribution: Baker & Taylor Publisher Services

Phone: 567.215.0030