Tag Archives: Poetry

NaPoWriMo 2014: write like nobody’s reading

National Poetry Writing Month begins today. Will you write 30 poems in 30 days?

Well, no. I won’t, not me personally. I retired from writing poetry a couple years ago. But before I did I wrote four books and am currently looking to publish them, so I definitely salute the annual celebration of the art.

Here at S&R we have a deep and abiding respect for verse, and we encourage you to break out the quill and parchment (if you don’t have a quill and parchment pen and paper, or even a word processing package such as Microsoft Word will do) and get your poetry on. Read more

Happy Imbolc from Scholars & Rogues

I’ve never quite understood the conventions surrounding the terms “midsummer” and “midwinter.” Each is used to describe the solstice – June 21st or so and December 21st or so – which are, as you know, the beginnings of summer and winter, not the middle.

Today is Imbolc, which we popularly celebrate as Groundhog Day.(I’m not sure whether Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, but if he were in Seattle with me he wouldn’t be able to see as far as his nose for all the fog, never mind his shadow.) In Gaelic cultures it’s called St. Brighid’s Day and the Catholics, in their campaign to appropriate all things pagan, call it Candlemas. Whatever you call it, today is the middle of winter.

Pagans of all sorts, both historical and contemporary, celebrate Imbolc as one of the eight Sabbats, or high holy days. Read more

ArtSunday: a poet says goodbye to poetry

CATEGORY: CATEGORY: ArtSundayI wrote my first poem when I was a senior at Ledford High School in Wallburg, NC. It was called “Octoberfaust,” and while it wasn’t a terribly good poem, it wasn’t bad for a 17 year-old having his first crack at something brand new. My English teacher, a guy named Jim Booth, whom S&R readers may have heard of, was very encouraging, and a poet was born.

That was in the fall of 1978, which means I have been a poet for nearly 35 years – my entire adult life and then some. During that time I have written four books (none of which are published) containing roughly 119 poems, depending on how you count certain multi-parters. Some have been very short, some have been quite long. A few are fairly conventional, while some are radical in how they challenge our assumptions about form, purpose and content. They cover some predictable subject matter – love and loss, family, life and death, politics, art, literature, poetry – and some less expected topics, like the suite in my most recent book that plays with the hypothetical intersection between trickster tales, Zen spiritualism and quantum physics. They lionize those I revere and savage those I feel have done me wrong. (You know who you are.) Some look hard at the world around me, while many cast a frank eye on the fucked up emotional terrain inside my head.

I think I’m pretty good (although, as you’ll see shortly, this opinion is not unanimously held). The Butterfly Machine, completed last summer, is my masterpiece, such as it is, and the other three books all have something to commend them. A number of the poems have been published: some have appeared in traditional places that are highly regarded (like Cream City Review) or were before they closed their doors (New Virginia ReviewAmaranth Review, High Plains Literary ReviewPoet & Critic). Others have been pubbed (or are forthcoming) in the small, innovative new journals and anthologies (print and online) that I believe represent the future of poetry (like Dead MuleAmethyst ArsenicPemmicanPoetry PacificManifest West, and Uncanny Valley).

I have also been rejected. Boy howdy, have I been rejected. I’ve been blown off by the biggest journals in all of literature, and I’ve also been sent on my way by small, obscure outlets (and everything in between). I couldn’t really tell you what the ratio of rejections to acceptances has been, but a whole lot to not many. In sum, while I think I’m a great writer and have found a few editors who agree, we are a minority. And not an especially large one.

I’m incredibly proud of my publication credits and am grateful to the editors who saw the value in my writing. To each of them, and to all the friends and colleagues who have supported me along the way, I’d like to say a huge thanks. You have no idea what you have meant to me.

With that said, I’m here today to announce my retirement from poetry. I know, I know – about as many people care that I’m quitting as cared that I was writing to start with, which is to say not many. These are fantastic folks, but if you got them all together they wouldn’t fill up the banquet room at the Sizzler (although, granted, it might be a little crowded if you seated them in the corner booth at Denny’s).

Wait…I’m quitting poetry because I expected to be doing arena tours? No, no. You don’t get into poetry if you’re after a large readership. It’s a quality-over-quantity decision, and if you’re going to be good you have to answer to the call of a muse, not the demands of the audience. Poetry is art, not product, and while we all want as many people to read what we write and to grasp whatever wisdom and beauty is contained therein, as you start worrying about anything but the purest essence of the the whispered insight you will lose the edge that makes you worth reading. Put another way, you have to do what you do and hope people like it. You can’t do what you think people will like.

So no, this isn’t about mass fame, and it certainly isn’t about money. Nobody makes money as a poet. There aren’t any galleries where people walk in, sample your craft and buy a poem to hang on the wall over the fireplace. There aren’t any touring poetry companies that pack the house everywhere they go. Cirque du Poetry won’t be setting up a tent in your town, nor can you go see their tribute to Mary Oliver at the Venetian in Vegas. And while there are recordings of poets reading their work, I don’t think I’ve heard of one going platinum. If you hope to make a living at poetry, the best you can hope for is that you’re good enough to land a professorship in Creative Writing. If it’s tenure track at a major research university, publications will figure into your promotion. But your job is professor, not poet.

I became a poet fully understanding the rules, fully understanding that there would never come a day when I had a large audience or got rich. But I did do so with the hope, and perhaps even the expectation, that I could and would attain a measure of renown within the world of poetry itself. I might not become America’s most famous poet, I thought, but when those who knew and loved the genre talked about who they thought was really good, my name might come up. I would be accepted, if not routinely, then at least occasionally, by our most prestigious literary journals. I would be invited to read at literary festivals. My work would be taught in English surveys and seminars, and if you went to an academic conference – perhaps one like MLA – you might hear professors or doctoral candidates giving papers on my writing. And hopefully, the critical consensus would be that I changed the landscape a little, that I innovated, that I busted up the corrosive banality that has plagued poetry for the last 50 years or so.

This was my dream. This was the plan.

Of course, it never happened. I have bitched plenty about the entrenched poetry establishment (trust me, there is one) and about the prevailing stylistic tendencies that make reading the average elite journal about as compelling as watching mold creep across a slab of white bread. There are external targets galore if I want to blame others. But even if it’s all true, the inescapable fact is that most of the fault is mine. On a couple of occasions – including the moment when I was completing my MA in English/CW and should have been launching out after my first university teaching position – I let my frustration with the aforementioned establishment get the better of me. When I see stupidity – especially broad institutional stupidity – I sometimes have this tendency to say fuck it and walk away. There are other things I can do with my life.

Which is true, but said institutions don’t lament your leaving, even if they notice it, and they damned sure don’t wait for you to come crawling home like some dearly missed prodigal genius. When you decide later that you’re ready to give it another run, you realize that you’ve fallen behind another generation of people. Some are talented, and some are possessed of a near-pathological stick-to-it-iveness, which means that your chances of landing a job are even less than they were before.

Had I gotten past my frustrations, I would certainly have faced rejections and competition and an ongoing battle with the dominant aesthetics of the day, to say nothing of the routine pissant politics that come with working in academia. But these fights…I might well have won a few. Even at my current rejection rate I’d have several more pages of publications, and if it were something other than a hobby, I might have ten books instead of four, 1000 poems instead of 119, a prize or three, and even tenure. I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d be solvent and I’d have good benefits. Would I be happy? I don’t know. Hopefully. I might have met and fallen in love with someone who shared my passion for art and literature. I’d exist in an atmosphere of professional validation. I’d go to work every day in an environment where my art was appreciated, at least theoretically.

All of which is to say that I’m blaming no one but myself. My life and career have been the result of my decisions for the most part, and the hand I’m playing today is one I dealt.

I have been thinking for the last few months, ever since I finished The Butterfly Machine, that I may be done. Not only have I been having this conscious, rational debate with myself, but the book itself ended in a way that seemed to be trying to tell me something. It closed in a watershed, sort of, in a sense that a chapter was over and it was time for something new. Maybe that meant a new phase in my life was beginning, and that it would bring something new to write about. But over time, I have had less and less interest in writing poetry. And less and less conviction that I was ever going to feel differently.

Last summer I bought my first camera. I have long enjoyed the photography of others, and have also wished that I had some faculty for the visual arts. Sadly, I can’t draw a decent stick man. But you don’t have to be able to draw to shoot.

As it turns out, I have some great friends who are also photographers – very, very good ones – and they all encouraged me. They shared tips, answered questions, told me what I was doing right and wrong, and the result is that in less than ten months I have gotten to the point where … well, I’m not great by any stretch, but I’m better than most people who have been at it less than a year.

So far I’ve had one shot featured by Visit Colorado and several more by Visit Denver. The Visit Colorado shot (“Ed,” the horse pic that was also my first sale) got over 2,500 likes and almost 450 shares. I’m not sure that all of the poems I ever wrote have been read by 2,500 people combined, and I’d bet the farm that those who have read them haven’t shared them with their friends 450 times.

Earlier this month I actually sold three of my photos at First Friday. Three people paid money for my photography. That’s a mind-shattering thing to happen to a poet. Somebody walks in off the street and likes your art enough to fork over actual cash so they can take it home and hang it on their wall. I’ll be back in that same gallery for First Friday in May, and the other day a couple of my shots went up in a restaurant here in Denver (with several more going up in a different venue shortly).

The more I have learned about photography, the more I have shot, the more I have honed my technical skills, the less I have cared about poetry. The artist is still alive and kicking in me, but he’s moved on and taken up new tools of expression. He likes being recognized, being validated for his vision. He sees, maybe, an opportunity to have a measure of the personal and artistic reward in this new genre that he dreamed of, but never attained, in the other one.

And he’s keenly aware that every second he spends trying to make words behave in a way that moves a hypothetical reader is a second he can’t spend taking and processing an image that moves an actual viewer.

So this is it: goodbye, poetry. I have loved you deeply and faithfully for most of my life. At some point, though, I have to accept that you simply don’t love me back. Perhaps that’s mostly my fault, but in the end, we have grown apart and I see no path to reconciliation.

I wish you well. I hope you thrive and find others to take my place, people who will love you more even than I do. You deserve it.

I leave you with a poem, the one my last book ends with…

To Be Continued (Ars Poetica)

I expected more from the end of the world. But the
sun came up the following morning. A herd of
pronghorn loiters near Gunnison.
Castle Rock weathers timelessly.
Cars accelerate. Ghost towns
wither in the rearview.

Coyote says: the world ends
more than you realize.
Last Wednesday makes twice
I know of.

The apes we once were
shivered at the howling moon, wove
gods of war from their dread.
The apes we still are
spin plots from mud and iron,
vapor and deadwood,
swatches of tattooed skin.

Raven says: harbingers are shiny things,
strung with hair,
flecked with blood.

Fox says: narratives are either
rationalization or conspiracy.
Something happened. Then
something else happened.

The world ends
not with a bang,
not even a whimper, but
with ellipses…

… and a picture. I call it “The Persistence of Time.”


“To Be Continued (Ars Poetica)” originally appeared in Pemmican in June, 2011 and this past fall was anthologized in Manifest West: Eccentricities of Geography.

WordsDay: It’s World Poetry Day 2013

CATEGORY: WordsDayMarch 21 is the UN’s World Poetry Day, and we here at S&R invite our readers to celebrate the event along with us. Hit the comment thread and offer up a bit of verse – something you admire, something you wrote, whatever.

I’ll go first, and I’ll do a bit of both. In my latest (as yet unpublished) book, there is an homage to my hero, William Butler Yeats – an homage that also manages to be painfully autobiographical in a way. So here is my poem, “William and Maud,” and the Yeats poem it’s riffing on, as I imagine the conversation they had there by the sea on the cliffs of Howth, as she spurned his proposal of marriage (for the first time of four). Yeats first.


WOULD that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!
We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee;
And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky,
Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.

A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose;
Ah, dream not of them, my beloved, the flame of the meteor that goes,
Or the flame of the blue star that lingers hung low in the fall of the dew:
For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!

I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore,
Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more;
Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be,
Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!

Now my dramatization.

William and Maud

            I am haunted by numberless islands... – WB Yeats

Walking by the shore at dusk, air 
leaden with a faith in words.

William looks up, says
Maud, the sky is full of dragonflies.

She stares beyond the sea. 

            That's nice, Bill. But I've a kingdom to burn.
            Your bugs will be dead by morning.

Words are a piper, he says. When we die,
our ghosts will haunt the waves and
young men will lift a pint to 
wandering beauty.

            We're inside-out, says Maud.
            I want to drown Dublin in 
            English blood and you,
            so much like a woman with 
            your poetry and your mysteries.

I will summon ancient warriors to your heel.
Then you will love me.

Maud stares beyond the rim of the sea.

            Summon me powder and horses, Bill.

His study quiet as dust, 
a candle's nub
races the dark to dawn.
William sits, vanquished by the 
sacred rose and the guns of love.

Happy Poetry Day. Your turn.


“William and Maud” originally appeared in Pemmican in June, 2011.

The “what if” question: a writer who loves poetry rants about poetry (and democracy gone astray)

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2The truth is that I have never really cared for most of the American poetry canon. Yes, there are exceptions. If you count TS Eliot as an American (and since he was born in St. Louis, you kind of have to), then he was my favorite (although, since he abandoned the US and went to Europe, I also wound up reading him in Brit Lit back in college). Elizabeth Bird was wonderful. Stevens and Williams, of course. There’s Audre Lorde, Mary Oliver and Charles Wright, whom I tend to view as the best poet alive. But other than that? Eh.

Which sets me rather apart from other writers of my generation, I realize. Nearly ever American poet I know seems to have grown up with the Modern US tradition. The founding father of American verse was Walt Whitman, and the most powerful recent influences all seem to have been Beats: most famously this list includes “anti-academic” poets like Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Snyder and Cassady, as well as Burroughs and Kerouac, who were better known for their fiction. (I can never quite figure out where Bukowski belongs in this equation; he wasn’t formally part of that circle, I don’t think, but his literary ethos certainly seems pretty Beat-ish.)

When you read contemporary poetry, these voices shine through, whether they’re being more or less directly ripped off by lesser lights or whether the influence takes the form of a more sophisticated background ambience in “street” poetry (or even less directly, filtered through hip-hop, in spoken word). It’s even there in what is now characterized, somewhat dismissively, as “academic poetry.”

I may be painting with broad strokes here, and I’m aware that, as Voltaire decreed, “tous les generalizations sont faux, y compris celui ci.” It’s also worth noting, as Dr. Johnson countered, that “nothing can please many, and please long, but just representations of general nature.” With these edicts in mind, I’d suggest that I’m probably not far off the general truth of the matter.

For better or worse, American poetry has been informed from the beginning by the same pragmatic ideological underpinnings as everything else in our culture. The elite universities of Europe, working within more or less rigid class structures, established the foundations of Western intellectualism and asserted the value of knowledge for its own sake. Meanwhile, those who came to the New World insisted that the products of human intellectual endeavor be practical and of observable value to the community. We’re the ones who concocted the idea of the land grant university, for instance.

The ultimate institutional expression of utilitarianism in American education is found in the Morrill Land Grant Act.  The original Act of 1862 initiated a movement which saw a second Act in 1890 and 1994 legislation aimed at developing educational resources on Native American lands, and has to date resulted in the chartering of over a hundred public universities in all 50 states and several territories.

In more complex terms, the land-grant movement is the expression and diffusion of certain political, social, economic, and educational ideals.  The motives typically attributed to the movement involve the democratization of higher education; the development of an educational system deliberately planned to meet utilitarian ends, through research and public service as well as instruction; and a desire to emphasize the emerging applied sciences, particularly agricultural science and engineering.

Expressed cynically, the thinking here is that knowledge is only of use if you can do something with it, and that something is usually going to be assessed, at some point along the line, in terms of its revenue potential. If you, like I, have had your knowledge dismissed as mere “book learnin’,” you’ve experienced the idea in its most reactionary form.

Not that American poetry has more commercial potential that its European counterpart, of course. The way this ethic is expressed in our art is through a more aggressive alliance with the “common man.” Class doesn’t exist in the US, allegedly, and celebration of our democratizing principles is foundational to the history of our verse, beginning with the American Romantics (which is when things really kicked into high gear. (I mean, I guess we can talk about Colonial poets if you like, but do you really think the shadow of Edward Taylor looms especially large over the contemporary landscape?)

The patron saint of American verse is unarguably Walt Whitman, and just for fun, Google “Walt Whitman working class hero.” Turns out he founded the lineage that would later spawn everyone from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen. He was the rarefied essence of Americana, “one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest.”

The American Romantic experience stands somewhat in contrast to the English version. Wordsworth and Co. didn’t spend a lot of time exalting the importance of class divisions, but it’s also true that their Romanticism emerged from and was tinted by a more overtly class-driven and intellectual context. Wordsworth’s ideas of democracy seemed to prefer natural man living in harmony with the natural order, an organic and contemplative state that we might see as more intellectual and abstract than partisan and activist. (Although, it must be admitted that Byron, in his support for the Luddites, was a rather vocal rabble-rouser.)

Over time, the inherent obsession with applied democracy has led to a distinct “leveling” effect in the US. The rise of Whitman’s progeny, the Beats, occurring concurrently with the coming of Postmodernism, established a radical egalitarianism in our literature, to the point where it’s anathema to fault a writer for style or discipline or lack of quality. All voices are equally valid, and to insist on any measure of talent or ability is elitism.

Okay, okay. I’m pushing the envelope there, I know. Even the most committed street-level e-zines don’t accept everything without reading, I suppose. But understand: when you are rejected, no matter the publication or editor, the reasons are usually couched in terms of “not quite what we’re looking for.” It would be unacceptable to tell even a Vogon that his or work was drivel. This isn’t merely about good manners, either. There are many, many writers out there who need to stop it right now, but they are told at every turn how important it is that they keep it up. If they torture a roomful of people for five minutes every Tuesday at open mic night, they receive the same round of applause that the best poet in town gets.

This is America. This is the democracy of literature. Quality is an elitist concept and questioning someone’s validity as an artist verges dangerously on intellectual neo-fascism.

Damn. I did it again. Sorry.

To say that Americans don’t read a lot of poetry is to engage in understatement bordering on the absurd. While part of this is a function of an education system that doesn’t prioritize the arts (and truthfully, barely understands them at all), it also has to be said that much of what we “ought” to be reading is banal and mundane. All too often our poetry sets the bar on the lowest peg and still manages not to clear it. Mind-numbing public displays, such as Richard Blanco’s recent exercise in inaugural tedium don’t help. But in truth, Blanco’s poem, uninspired and pedestrian though it was, was par for the course. It was an archetypal exhibition of what’s wrong with our academic, workshop verse in a leveled culture: timid and too far removed from the grit of the real world, yet desperate in its impotent pawing after street cred – the moral equivalent of a Pat Boone record featuring a drop-in by Lil Wayne.

That’s the one extreme, and the other is the undisciplined “street” poet who knows what real life looks like up close and personal, yet who has onboarded the anti-intellectual ideology of the Beats. There’s something elitist about craftsmanship. Forget revision – that’s for the guys with elbow patches. If a poem takes more than a few minutes from concept to completion, it’s devoid of authenticity.

(A caveat: I hate to pound on this stereotype too hard. I actually know a writer who works in just this way and who manages to do it well. Very well. In fact, I have published this writer and am proud to say it’s one of the best things I have ever had the privilege of offering to S&R’s readers. So it’s possible. But just because one writer in a million can do it doesn’t mean that the other 999,999 are off the hook for their slothfulness. And be forewarned – if you accuse me of erecting a straw man here, I’m coming to your house and dragging you to the next open mic night I attend. And you’ll sit through every minute of it. Then you can come back and tell all of our readers if you still think I’m making it up.)

Here’s the “what if” question I allude to in the title: what if, instead of Whitman, William Blake had been born on Long Island on May 31, 1819? What if he, instead of the Godfather of Lowest Common Denominatoring, had been the founding father of American verse? How might our tradition have been different? What if, instead of a vaguely partisan obsession with the idea that all humans are staggeringly (and equally) talented artists who need to be heard, our tradition had instead been built on the apocalyptic potential of the soul? What if our legacy had been founded on the ambition of language instead of a deep, abiding suspicion of anything longer than two syllables?

What if poetry were something other than pedestrian, workaday prose with artificial linebreaks?


By now, I have probably made clear that I’m an insufferable elitist, an anti-democratic, peasant-bashng neo-Tory. Except that I am one of those common men so celebrated by Whitman. I grew up working class in the South, and the gods know how many young boys and girls throughout history, born into similar conditions in societies that believed in keeping the lower classes in their place, were denied the opportunity to pursue the artistic impulses that plagued their souls.

I am rather vehemently in favor of everyone getting a shot. On a level playing field. But our culture is ill-served by the Postmodern, hyper-democratic ideology I describe above and by how it is understood and implemented in our arts.

I’d argue instead that my point here goes to the essence of democracy properly understood. In a perfect democracy, everyone, regardless of race, class, gender, creed, etc., is equipped with the tools they need to succeed at the highest level and against the most demanding criteria. True democracy isn’t about grade inflation. It doesn’t accept ineptitude and laziness, shrugging, giving up and reclassifying it as “excellence.” (It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!)

That’s not democracy. That’s paternalism. It’s condescension and pandering, and it makes us all weaker, whether we like poetry or not. Why? Because our literature tells us a great deal about the rest of the society, which increasingly pays lip service to excellence while enabling (and assuring) underperformance. When our system sets us up for failure then stands and applauds, it’s giving us a gold star for showing up. When it treats the best and the worst as though they’re the same, it destroys external incentives to achieve.

Yep. Poetry tells us a lot about ourselves, whether we’re paying attention or not.

Happy Valentine’s Day: “Chardonnay”

           - Gravity: Summer Solstice, 1992

Go tell it to the sea, 
how he should let go
his moonstruck,

his shameless high tides – 
climbing each day, each night
kissing at her cloudless 

Perhaps he'd answer
that it's all cyclical – hope
driving him up the beach and the brooding
low tides.

Even so, most of his time is chasing
fish into nets, lobbing
bodysurfers towards shore,

and coming to grips with a notion –

	there is nothing new under the sun,
	what goes up must come down.

Crabs have always scuttled among the rocks.


“Chardonnay originally appeared in The Dead Mule in April, 2003.

WordsDay: a couple of recommendations

CATEGORY: WordsDayFirst, I hope you checked out today’s outstanding S&R LitJournal offering from Changming Yuan. If not, you really oughta.

Second, in addition to being a talented writer, Changming also edits Poetry Pacific in Vancouver. Give it a look. In particular, I really liked the set from Laurence Overmire – very vivid and immediate, I thought.

Finally, a literary journal that published some of my work last year is back with their latest issue. The Winter 2013 iteration of Amethyst Arsenic features no fewer than 18 poets, and by all means give a read to “The Sound of Oxygen” by Lizi Gilad. Congrats to publisher Samantha Milowsky and her staff on another great effort.

Happy WordsDay.

A poem about the end of the world

Wait – what? The world didn’t end? Son of a bitch. Didn’t see that coming.

Okay. Rebooting. So, some time back I wrote a poem about the end of the world. All things considered, today seems like a good day to post it. Enjoy.

To Be Continued (Ars Poetica)

I expected more from the end of the world. But the
sun came up the following morning. A herd of
pronghorn loiters near Gunnison.
Castle Rock weathers timelessly.
Cars accelerate. Ghost towns
wither in the rearview.

Coyote says: the world ends
more than you realize.
Last Wednesday makes twice
I know of.

The apes we once were
shivered in the howling moon, wove
gods of war from their dread.
The apes we still are
spin plots from mud and iron,
vapor and deadwood and
swatches of tattooed skin.

Raven says: harbingers are shiny things,
strung with hair and
flecked with blood.

Fox says: narratives are either
rationalization or conspiracy.
Something happened. Then
something else happened.

The world ends
not with a bang,
not even a whimper, but
with ellipses.


“To Be Continued (Ars Poetica)” has previously appeared in Pemmican and Manifest West.

Frost’s ‘Road Not Taken’: the perfect metaphor for America in 2012…and not in a good way

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

While I’ve never conducted formal research on the question, it has always seemed to me that America’s favorite poem is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” (AmericanPoems.com says it’s number three, and frankly, I’d like a look at their methodology. “i carry your heart with me” and “Messy Room” at one and two? Seriously?)

Even people who neither know nor care a whit about poetry are familiar with the work, at least in passing, and I’m sometimes surprised to find them smiling as they think of it. Why, I wonder. Read more

The new Amethyst Arsenic is out (a wee bit of self-promotion)

The Summer 2012 issue of Amethyst Arsenic, a great online poetry and art journal, is now available, featuring poetry from Cassandra de Alba, Mary Kovaleski Byrnes, James Caroline, Meaghan Ford, Hannah Galvin, Casey Rocheteau, Rene Schwiesow, Steve Subrizi and many more. Plus, art from Pauline Lim, Ivan de Monbrison and Jessica Pinsky. Also, yes, I have three pieces in it: “1638,” “Wedding Song,” and “Meditation: Monarch Mountain.” Here’s a taste:

Meditation: Monarch Mountain

Aspens white-barked, gold.
Winter is coming, early
snow on Monarch Pass.

Read more

ArtSunday: The Broadman Hymnal


My parents split when I was three years old and I was sent to live with my paternal grandparents. My father was around – he lived a couple blocks away as I was growing up – but I didn’t see him much. In essence, my grandfather, Samuel Linville Smith, was my father. I will ever be grateful for the courage mustered, at the age of 51 – the age I am right now – to take on the out-of-control bundle of energy and insecurity that I was at that age and to raise me to the point where I might actually achieve something in life.

He died in 1984 and I miss him every day. Happy Father’s Day, Granddaddy. This is for you.


-for Samuel Linville Smith

I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown. Read more

ars poetica: Reflecting on what exactly poetry is (after completing my latest book)

As I Facebooked last night:

After more than three years of writing, editing, revising, and of course enduring the emotional agony that engenders so many of my best ideas, I have finally arrived at what I’m choosing to call a 1.0 version of my new book, tentatively entitled The Butterfly Machine.

Now, like any business-savvy poet, I’m on to the business of auctioning off movie rights and booking venues for the impending world tour.

[aherm] [cough] [ahem] Read more

The Obama Doctrine and Snooki Nation: declaring victory and victory are the same thing

So, it appears campaign season is under way in earnest. Mr. Obama officially kicked off the festivities in Virginia and Ohio yesterday, and we saw our first Mitt-scorcher on Denver TV a couple days ago. I’ve been thinking about the Obama administration’s performance to date for a few months, and perhaps now is as good a time as any to summarize what I think has been the dominant theme of his presidency.

My home state, North Carolina, has a wonderful motto: esse quam videri – to be, rather than to seem. Read more

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