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 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.
- “Edgar Allan Crow”
These two poems are my second publication in Former People Journal, the first place to accept my work when I switched from writing humor to poetry several years ago. “Boodina” is about a childhood pet, a gray tabby cat who tried to impart hunting skills to me when I was six or seven. “Edgar Allan Crow” was another family pet, a crow with an amazing gift for human speech and imitating other animals.
The Furious Gazelle
- “Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056 (Largo)”
This poem first appeared in the print-only journal Clover, a Literary Rag. The Furious Gazelle — “literary as hell” — was kind enough to give it an online home and also to declare it a finalist in their Spring 2018 Poetry Contest.
- “The Sound of Water”
- “Two Giant Snapping Turtles Making Love”
- “Primitive Instincts”
“TSA” is about everyone’s favorite government agency and will probably get me on the No Fly List. “Flying” muses on the earth below from up in the air. “The Sound of Water” is just that. “Two Giant Snapping Turtles Making Love” recounts something I once saw with my own eyes. “Primitive Instincts” was inspired by recent readings in evolutionary psychology.
- “3:07 a.m.”
The Furious Gazelle reprinted this poem, originally in the print-only journal Fjords Review. The subject is the time of night as experienced by an occasional insomniac who doesn’t like to let any poetic experience go to waste.
The Green Light Literary Journal
- “A Party”
- “The House of Memory”
Two of my poems were selected for the special Halloween edition of The Green Light Literary Journal. “A Party” recounts a largely true story that only becomes a tall tale at the end. “The House of Memory” reflects on a bleak and brutalizing childhood, as seen in dreams of the house where seven feral children grew up. Only my siblings will understand all of the references, but the feel of it should be apparent to anyone. Happy Halloween!
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.
The Harpoon Review
- “Life and Death and the 5th Avenue Bus”
The Harpoon Review is a literary journal founded and edited by Gary E. Lovely. This poem, which recounts a real-life incident from my brief time living in Manhattan, is somewhat influenced by the “I do this, I do that” style of my favorite New York poet, Frank O’Hara.
“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.
- “This Moment”
Northern Vermont University is the home of the excellent literary journal pamplemousse (French for “grapefruit”). “This Moment” attempts to describe and mimic the significance of each passing bit of time. One goal in writing it was to do this without the interruptions of punctuation. Instead, all of the heavy lifting of pauses and so on is accomplished using only line breaks.
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 love poem. 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…”
South Florida Poetry Journal
All I’m going to say about “Abduction” is that it concerns something that actually happened to me. There are no bookmarks for individual poems, so you just scroll through the issue. Mine is the fifth poem down.
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.
Talking Gourds: Telluride Institute 2019 Fischer Poetry Prize
- “Tokyo Rose”
Every year the Fischer Prize awards one grand prize winner and five finalists. This poem was named First Finalist, so I guess runner-up, second place, something like that? I got to attend the festival and read the poem at the award ceremony, which was a wonderful experience. It’s a narrative poem that tells the true and somewhat heartbreaking story of Tokyo Rose, whose life intersected with that of my family slightly when she relocated to Chicago after her time in prison for treason, and opened an Asian novelties store.
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 “Ars 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.
- “The White Album”
- “Sgt. Pepper”
- “December 8, 1980”
These three are from a sequence of Beatles-related poems I’ve been working on, called Fab Sonnets. They will probably become a chapbook someday if I can finish enough of them.
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 Canada.
Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review
- “Love Fog”
The simple idea behind this poem is to treat the start of a romance as a severe weather warning. Borderlands, an Austin journal started in 1992, doesn’t put any of its content online, so this poem is only available in the print publication. Follow the link and order Issue 50.
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 New Sangria”
- “Gray Fox”
“The New Sangria” and “Gray Fox” are both funny, fanciful prose poems approaching reality through unreality. The former relates an encounter with some sort of extraterrestrial, and the latter with a philosophical talking fox. This anniversary issue of Emrys Journal was dedicated to humor.
- “3:07 a.m.”
“Blizzard” is written in syllabic verse, in this case seven syllables per line. The subject is a snowstorm so heavy that it almost makes the world we think we know disappear. “3:07 a.m.” was composed at exactly that time. I’m often awake in the middle of the night, reading or writing or, as here, just listening. Fjords Review is a fine quarterly journal out of Lynchburg, Virginia.
The Ibis Head Review
- “Soup Kitchen”
Wherever I live I always volunteer at a local soup kitchen, washing dishes. In Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where I lived at the time this was written, it was 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 served 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 American Journal of Poetry
- “December 7, 1948”
Robert Nazarene, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of this highly esteemed publication, has a delightful (and in my experience unique) way of telling authors their work has been accepted: he gives them a personal phone call! No editor has ever done that with me before. The magazine is legendary, publishing many of the best poets in the country, including some of my personal heroes like Peter Everwine and Diane Wakoski. This piece is an odd one, sort of like The Man in the High Castle of prose poems. It depicts a kind of alternative history.
The Big Windows Review
- “First Sight”
The excellent literary magazine The Big Windows Review comes out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Writing Center at Washtenaw Community College (WCC). Editor Tom Zimmerman accepted this love poem about my first encounter with Sheryl Nyblom, the woman who became my girlfriend.
The Furious Gazelle
- “First Flakes”
- “I long to enter the unholy…”
- “Natural History”
These three poems were first published in print-only journals — “First Flakes” in Crosswinds Poetry Journal, “I long to enter the unholy…” in Into the Void, and “Natural History” in Phantom Drift. Thanks to The Furious Gazelle’s willingness to reprint them, they will soon have a permanent home online.
The Nervous Breakdown
- “The Mystery of Evil”
I’ve been trying to break into The Nervous Breakdown for years, and finally managed it with this poem about a childhood acquaintance who committed unspeakable acts and died a sordid death. The site founded by Brad Listi is one of the most comprehensive literary destinations around, comparable to McSweeney’s and in some ways going beyond them. They don’t do a little of everything, they do a LOT of everything.
The Penn Review
- “A Typical Weekend in My Young Life”
Founded in 1951, The Penn Review is the oldest continuously published literary magazine at the University of Pennsylvania. They are also among the best in the country, both with their literary content and their visual content. “A Typical Weekend in My Young Life” records a harrowing occasion when myself and my six siblings were left in the care of a disturbed man in the midst of a cocaine and alcohol binge. How all of us are still alive and most of us are relatively sane, I’ll never know.
- “Father’s Belt”
My poem “Father’s Belt” did not win the Edwin Markham Prize for Poetry sponsored by the highly esteemed Reed Magazine, but Poetry Editor Anne Cheilek said, “Your piece immediately stood out for us. We liked it very much, and if it is still available, we would love to publish it in Reed 153.” I’m no dope so I quickly said yes. It’s a persona poem — one in which a person, idea or thing speaks for itself — that I wrote following an inspiring workshop led by Marion Boyer at the 2019 Kalamazoo Poetry Festival. Many thanks to Anne, Marion and the Festival!
- “Falling in the Direction of Up”
Yemassee Journal is “the official journal of the University of South Carolina since 1993.” It’s quite well done. This poem has a winding history. I had already decided that I wanted the title to be the name of my first full-length poetry collection, tentatively scheduled for 2021, after I publish my second chapbook in 2020, Feral Grief. The title is adapted from a catch-phrase from the 1950’s British radio comedy series the Goon Show, where the young Peter Sellers got his start. When the Beatles met their producer George Martin, they didn’t care what other musical acts he had worked with, but they were terribly impressed that he had made records with the Goons. That’s how they knew they’d get on with him. Anyway, one of the characters would sometimes refer to “falling in the direction of down,” a funny phrase that I simply turned around to sound slightly uplifting, perhaps influenced a bit by Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” Thing is, I didn’t have a title poem to go with the title! Then some people organized an art exhibit of fascinating drawings by Michael Dunn at the People’s Church in Kalamazoo and asked if I could contribute something (each drawing was accompanied by an ekphrastic poem). One drawing featured a bird, an angel and a woman’s face, and the poem came together very quickly after that. It’s also the first poem influenced by my girlfriend and muse Sheryl Nyblom, who comes into it obliquely at the end.