Poetry is where much of my time and energy have been going these last several years. Lest you think me a mere dilettante, I should add that I began my writing life as a poet and never abandoned it when I took up writing humor. I simply stopped sending the stuff out for publication until relatively recently. Following are links to those of my poems that are available online, along with explanatory (hopefully not mansplaining) notes about them. In a few instances the publications don’t make their content available online for free, so I have instead posted links to where digital or print copies can be purchased.
- “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?”
The title comes from a painting by Paul Gauguin, which makes this an ekphrastic poem — a work of art in response to another work of art (like “Homunculus” below). This is my second international publication, appearing in the excellent British magazine Antiphon. The following link leads to a page where you can listen to an mp3 audio file of me reading the poem:
Burningword Literary Journal
“Entropy” takes Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics and applies it — unscientifically but I think justifiably — to human affairs. The end of the poem refers to one of the most famous poems by Robinson Jeffers, called “Shine, Perishing Republic,” a great poem of genuine protest that is still relevant today, not like the mewling and puking we see all around us now. The next-to-last line quotes without attribution from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 53, where the meaning of the evocative phrase “millions of strange shadows” is not entirely clear. I take it as a metaphor for the mysterious complexity of the human mind and spirit, a complexity reduced to mere chaos by entropy. Except that to go from one “departed shade” to “millions of strange shadows” could also imply a reversal of entropy, an increase in ordered complexity and humanness, a scientific impossibility but perhaps a spiritual possibility. So for those who get the reference it’s kind of purposefully ambiguous at the end, as a counterpoint to the overall sadness of the poem.
Former People Journal
- “My Personal Doom”
- “Looking into a Face”
- “The Germ of an Idea”
- “Medical Report”
- “Focus Group”
Aside from a few poems I managed to get published as a teenager, Former People Journal was the first publication to publish my work when I finally started sending it out again in late 2016. I will be forever grateful to them for that encouragement at a crucial time. “My Personal Doom” and “Looking into a Face” are part of what I call “the Roberta poems,” a set of love poems. Several of these draw inspiration from current ideas in various sciences as, apart from poetry, science is mostly what I read these days. “My Personal Doom” refers to cosmology and quantum physics, “Looking into a Face” to cosmology and symmetry (yes, the universe does seem to have resulted from a broken symmetry). “The Germ of an Idea” might appear to be about current political events but in fact the earliest draft dates from the seventies. Frankly it’s a little scary how relevant it still is. “Medical Report” is mostly meant to be funny, in a slightly nauseated, off-putting way. “Focus Group” was written after overexposure to this favorite device of marketing researchers. This one is meant to convey both humor and horror and, like “The Germ of an Idea,” is a bit of a political comment as well, something I am not otherwise prone to do.
Grey Sparrow Journal/Snow Jewel 7
One of many poems I have written while staying at the house of my sister Cara and brother-in-law Tom. That there was a spider on the ceiling in the middle of the night is in no way a comment on their housekeeping skills. The most exciting thing about getting into this issue of Grey Sparrow Journal (which bears the subtitle of Snow Jewel 7) is that it also features work by Robert Bly, one of my all-time favorite poets and a large influence throughout my writing life for his poetry, translations and criticism. The magazine refers to him as “our national treasure,” which is right on the money as far as I’m concerned.
“Homunculus” is an example of ekphrasis, a work of art responding to another work of art, in this case a humanoid figurine observed at a natural history museum. Eat your heart out, W.H. Auden!
Noctua Literary Review
- “The Sound of Weeping”
Noctua Literary Review is a literary journal managed by students in the graduate writing program at Southern Connecticut State University. “The Sound of Weeping” is a sonnet in Elizabethan, not Petrarchan, form (i.e., three quatrains and an end couplet). I think it best to leave the origins of this poem shrouded in mystery. I will merely point out that in addition to the usual end-rhymes there is a lot of internal rhyming and other harmonics going on in these lines.
This excellent poetry site began as a closed regional writers group, and gradually expanded to include the rest of the universe. Not much to say about “Story” except that it is an attempt to encapsulate the tragic sense of loss in something close to parable form. “Meditation” is both a response to practicing mindfulness, and a flawed example of the same. The “crickets” referred to are actually the continual insect-like background buzz that one hears when one sits quietly (if one happens to be me, anyway). “What’s-Her-Face” is obviously a breakup poem. I hasten to add this is not about any recent events.
The Poet’s Billow
- “Winter Begins” (winner of the Bermuda Triangle Poetry Prize)
The Poet’s Billow is a multifaceted resource for poets, and also sponsors several annual competitions. One such contest is the Bermuda Triangle Poetry Prize, so-called not because all submissions to it disappear into thin air, but because there are three equal winners, like the three angles of a triangle. The theme for 2017 was “Revolution,” and my poem “Winter Begins” was a winner. Although it starts as a seasonal reflection, it does end up in a revolution of sorts led by the field mice. And I suppose every change of season is a revolution in its own right.
- “The Sleep Test”
In fact I wrote this the day before the test, and afterwards was surprised to see how accurate it was (aside from the hallucinations of course). This is a prose poem, meaning it has no rhyme scheme or syllabic scheme typical of formal verse, although the line breaks and the overall dreaminess allow it to straddle the two worlds of poetry and prose.
Quail Bell Magazine
- “Shampoo-Conditioner (A Poem of Protest and Resistance)”
- “Two Sisters”
Quail Bell is a quirky but lovable magazine that goes its own strange way with attitude aplenty, making it a perfect home for these poems. After the election and the hysteria that understandably followed (and still has not abated), I struggled with how to respond as a writer. My solution was to take the slippery ambiguous poet’s path and try to have it every which way. Yes, there is genuine protest and resistance of some kind in “Shampoo-Conditioner (A Poem of Protest and Resistance).” Yet the subject is so mundane and ultimately trivial that it also becomes partly a parody of the sometimes knee-jerk Resistance. “Two Sisters” is more straightforward, being a tribute to my own sister’s cats. Here’s hoping I am the first poet in all history to think of writing about cats. Fingers crossed! To save you a trip to the dictionary, a demiurge is — to quote Wikipedia — “an artisan like figure responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe,” yet something less than a full-fledged god. Maybe a demigod. If you saw one you’d still be tempted to worship it.
Right Hand Pointing
- “The Heart Goes Out”
Here is the first micro-poem I have been able to get published. There are more waiting in the wings for some weak-willed editor to fall under their spell. Micro-poetry generally refers to any verse under sonnet length, which is 14 lines. This one is a simple rhyming quatrain that hopefully resonates a bit.
- “A Last Villanelle”
Despite the title, which alludes to the bittersweet nature of last things, this is actually my first villanelle. It is an oblique elegy for and tribute to my friend and fellow poet Brett Foster, who died way too young in 2015. Roanoke Review is one of America’s more venerable literary journals, having been founded in 1967 at Roanoke College in Virginia.
- “Summon the Stones”
This former print publication, now online only, has been around for quite a while. “Summon the Stones” attempts to interrogate the natural world about our human separation from it. “Still” is another of “the Roberta poems.” I’m afraid I took more delight than a grown man should have in opening a love poem with the line, “There is the stillness of rot…”
The Sun Magazine
“Mindfulness” can be thought of as a sort of sister poem to “Meditation” (see the entry for Otis Nebula above), although clearly not as serious. Call it my way of facing the future and refusing to join the nationwide hyperventilation over current events that are out of my or anyone else’s control. Getting something into the highly esteemed Sun Magazine is probably my biggest score to date in the rough and tumble world of poetry.
Triggerfish Critical Review
- “Wrong Cave”
- “The Innocence of Youth”
Triggerfish Critical Review gets its name from the fact that in addition to publishing poetry, it has the poets in each issue comment on each others’ work. I found it to be a unique and fascinating experience. In the case of my own poem “Wrong Cave,” they even let me comment on it myself, for reasons that will become apparent. “Wrong Cave” and “Pumpernickel” share a common character, Roberta, and were written shortly after I met her. “The innocence of Youth” is more of a noir mystery in poetic form. All three are comedic prose poems with a serious undertone. If you say, “Wait, these aren’t prose poems! They aren’t divided into paragraphs and the line breaks don’t look like prose!” I can only reply that this is the way James Tate did it and he is my master when it comes to prose poetry. You can take it up with him. Except he’s dead. The poems that I commented on by other writers are “Jorge Luis Borges in the streets of the French Quarter, 1980” by Richard Weaver, and “Are Poetica Conference” by Larry Woiwode.
- “The Dream”
- “New Year”
- “To Michael Beasley, Who Beat My Turtles to Death”
Verse-Virtual is an online magazine and writing community edited by the sagacious Firestone Feinberg. “The Dream” is about my primal fear of being subsumed by community groupthink, something I felt strongly even as a child. “Mementoes” and “New Year” are both breakup poems dating from quite a while ago, only now seeing the light of day. “Self-Interrogation” sets the spiritual practice of self-examination in a comic context. “To Michael Beasley, Who Beat My Turtles to Death” is a true story and needs no further explanation. One cool thing about Verse-Virtual is how they encourage readers to interact with and respond to writers, and vice versa, which is why they include writers’ email addresses.
- “Walking After Dark”
This is a villanelle, a 19-line poem with five stanzas of three lines each and a concluding stanza of four lines. There are two rhymes and two end lines that alternate between stanzas, getting repeated at the end. The most famous example in English is the powerful Dylan Thomas poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” about the death of his father. This one tackles a more mundane subject: why I prefer to walk at night.
Wilderness House Literary Review
Another arachnid poem, this time about a true encounter with an injured wolf spider. Wilderness House Literary Review specializes in nature poetry.
The following publications do not make their content available online for free. The links are for buying digital or print copies. “The Argument” won Honorable Mention in Crosswind Poetry Journal’s annual contest. Into the Void and Light are notable for featuring both good poetry and good art, the former in full color and the latter in stunning black-and-white photography. Into the Void was my first foreign publication, being based in Dublin, Ireland.
Clover, a Literary Rag
- “Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056 (Largo)”
- “Cottonwood Seeds”
This sumptuous biannual magazine hails from the Independent Writers’ Studio in Bellingham, Washington, a group founded by Mary Gillilan. They publish poetry, fiction and essays from around the world. I landed two poems in Volume 14. “Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056 (Largo)” uses a favorite passage by my favorite composer to discuss the life, work and death of J.S. Bach. I first encountered Glenn Gould’s recording in the film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, and it has haunted me ever since. It is unfortunately true that the same quack eye doctor managed to kill both Bach and Handel. “Cottonwood Seeds” muses on the unique characteristics of the most under-appreciated of trees.
Crosswinds Poetry Journal
- “The Argument”
- “First Flakes”
“The Argument” constitutes somewhat of an homage (though a very nonspecific one) to Federico Garcia Lorca. To clarify: “First Flakes” is about an early snowfall, not breakfast cereal or the inhabitants of an asylum.
The Ibis Head Review
- “Soup Kitchen”
Wherever I live I always volunteer at a local soup kitchen, washing dishes. In Stevens Point, Wisconsin it’s the Place of Peace, part of the Evergreen Community Initiative, which also runs a food pantry and a clothing pantry. It’s hard to write truthfully about the people we serve every week without sounding unintentionally cruel or condescending. In the end this is just one more experience that teaches how the world is not divided into the broken and the unbroken. It is divided into those that know they are broken and those that do not. Those that do not know are usually more dangerous. They often wind up in positions of influence — mothers or fathers, school board members, corporate officers, politicians — unconsciously projecting their brokenness beyond the intimate circle of misery in which their lack of self-knowledge ensures that they will always live.
Into the Void
- “I long to enter the unholy…”
A rapid-fire series of images and metaphors about the desire to merge with nature or the universe.
This poem makes ironical use of the biblical language of praise to convey a less-than-praiseworthy state of mind — feelings of ennui, futility and worthlessness.
- “Natural History”
Phantom Drift calls itself “A Journal of New Fabulism,” a description that includes the work of Jorge Luis Borges, Federico Garcia Lorca, and other 20th century authors from around the world. This poem seems to qualify for admittance by virtue of some lines and images that partake of a sense of the dreamlike. Not quite surrealistic, but hovering right on the edge.
More of my poems have been accepted and are forthcoming at the following publications, not yet available in any form. I will post notes about them as they do become available.
- “The New Sangria”
- “Gray Fox”
- “3:07 a.m.”