Tag Archives: poems about poetry

What Are The Rules

 You don’t use the word “love”
in a love letter. Instead you speak
of feather and turn and light under
the bedroom door. The curtains
serving as screen for
an independent film, the distance
from the summit of a volcano 
to the ocean’s edge still boiling
from its latest eruption. 

You don’t use the word “sorrow”
in a suicide note. Instead, try to explain
as carefully as possible how the wind
never relents, how peregrine falcons
can hang motionless of the edge of a cliff
for what seems like hours before
they plunge, productively,
to the ground below. 

You don’t use the word
“poem” in a poem. Instead, talk
of anthills and of how all we see
is what’s been moved to create
the truth of the living that goes on
out of sight, deep underground
where the queen nestles in the dark,
the unspeaking engine
for the trains that roll in and out
of the light. 

Now I Am Stone

Once I could embrace
everything that had a pulse,
and since everything did, I drew 
everything in and held it
until I pulsed with it.

From plain old dirt to brand new seedlings.
From slippery sweet words of love to
harsh talk in the tongue of ravens,
those slow wrenching croaks.
From brilliant concept to laughing dismissal:

if it could move, and everything did,
I moved to grasp it and take its essence
into my own arrhythmic dance.
I would tell the tale of it, and then
I would run off chasing the next wild pulse. 

I am so far removed from pulse now
that all I know of it is what I recall and the words,
the dance of how it used to feel means so little
I may as well say nothing as I fade. Now, I am stone.
Nothing moves me. Instead, I cleave in place.

Only A Fool Could Be You

Only a fool would say that:
a fool, or a writer trying
to make you notice them.
To make you think
they were deep,
or at least that the work
was deep. Something
the writer could claim was
channeled from a deep source,
not entirely their own. 
That it was nonsense,
but contrary nonsense, 
something the world
had forgotten. Selling
bullshit as wisdom is
the perfect skill, after all.
Anyone can go far in any field
with that, not just writers.
You can eat and drink for free
damn near forever on one
foolish bit everyone thinks
is brilliant. That you longed
for brilliance is immaterial.
That you struggled and failed
for brilliance is of no consequence
to anyone but you, if you are
so inclined to care, once you are done
eating and drinking off your failure.
Are you done?


Remarkable —
the sunflower leaf 
holding water
after a night
without rain.

Remarkable — 
all I need to do
is describe it this simply

and someone
will call this description
art, someone
who never notices
remarkable things
happening so routinely,

who might have been
profoundly changed
if they had just looked up
from a book
and seen it for themselves.

An Old Poet Admits It’s Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

up by five am daily unless there’s
illness or rare refusal. the Work begins 
before coffee, breakfast, or inspiration.

first it’s just me and a shimmer, a pang.
then it’s just me, my pang and/or shimmer,
and blank space, waiting.

inspiration is for amateurs.
the pang is the pain of not writing,
the shimmer? anticipation, joy.

then the poem comes up out of the Work.
no effort is needed until it shows up.
our work only begins after the words punch in.

we wrestle and chip. we form and reform,
seeking the poem the poem insists
on becoming. seeking the writer the poem demands.

do this long enough, often enough, and you become 
immeasurable to others unless you are measured
against your last poem. it has not been long enough

for me. tomorrow it’s back to sunrise
and no inspiration; just
shimmer, pang, and blank space. 

as for satisfaction in the Work? an artist’s statement?
ask me later. ask me later tomorrow, in fact.
prepare yourself for a lie. assume everything said

that is not in the Work
is somehow a lie, just one of those things
left behind after the Work is done.

An Old Poet Skips Yet Another Open Reading

It’s a joy to watch myself
disappearing at last
from spaces I once felt
I needed to dominate.
Truly, I wanted to vanish
every time I showed up
but the best I could do
was be central,
larger than life,
and false,
so everyone looked at
my illusion
and not at me.

Now I am
old enough and voluntarily
so far beneath these people
who never look down
that I can be both
invisible and more real
than I ever have been before
as I burrow away
from expectations and
reputation into the places
where I can do the most
good, or damage,
or good damage, praying
(in an uncharitably fulfilling way)
that they may they never know
what hit them, what tunneled
below them, what changed
the ground that no longer
holds any of us well.


this is a collection of words
with broken hips.

it sits in front of you

it is trying to rise and greet
you and the day but has been stuck

waiting for revisions
for what has felt like forever.

it is uncomfortable with how much
you expect it to fly

when it eventually does rise,
changed, to its feet.

you are eager for it to take flight,
but that is not its nature.

it would prefer to stay close
to the ground. it longs for you

to stay with it and peer into
the dirt around the roots of grasses,

all the kinds of grasses. it wants to
be anything but one of those poems

that soars high above all.
its bones have been unknit for so long

it has learned to just be here,
close to the ground.

all it wants is to get out of the chair
and take a knee and stare into the earth

around grass roots, learn the names
of what grows there, and help you do the same.

Nothing To Pour

I can see the shape
of what I must say,
what I long to say,
but not how to fill it in.

The container is perfectly
made, seamless and clear;
there’s nothing inside.

In my conception, once I fill it
anyone reading it will understand it
at once, regardless of
their literacy, their language.

The moment they lift it
from the page and take it in,
they’ll be so moved…

yet somehow for too long
I have had
nothing to pour.


I’m up at four-thirty
cracked like dawn
trying to write
but there are cats here
and they want food and
a clean shitter and above all
for me to stop using them
as a source of excuses
for not writing
I have to go bathe my father
which is no excuse
I have to go feed my mother
which is no excuse
My feet on fire and
my left hand frozen numb
with neuropathy
Pain that goes from
nagging to screaming
that it’s not an excuse
The drugs that ease the pain
slow me and dull me at the same time
but that is no excuse
My broke timid ass overwhelmed
with all the doom within and around me
to the point of disgust and saturation
with my lack of excuses
The siren songs of bullshit self-care
are no excuse to step away
from the cliff
I need to fall over to land on
an enemy below
and even as I burn out
and fall dead while crushing them
snuffing them out
they look up saying
You are killing me and killing yourself
and those are not excuses
for not writing a poem today
Feed the cats shithead
Take the drugs shithead
Kill the billionaires shithead
Whether you live miserably or die happy
you truly have just one real job
Write that goddamn poem
or all this will be worth
exactly as much
as you are
which is
that’s all

Chastened thus
I suffer and bend to
the task

A Career In Poetry

My last great literary act
is to admit out loud that
I’ve always been repeating myself
and it’s no longer enough.

It used to be enough.
I would tell myself
in response to writing a bad poem
I was at least being original.
Then came the moment when
I saw I was not, but kept trying.
Today I can see
the whole point of me: there’s been
just one, there’s been
only one poem I’ve ever written, I’ve been
endlessly rocking the same poem
with different words; I have repeated it
only out of desperation, then walked up to you
and shook you
over and over with the same motion
and glazed sensibility,
wanting to be
owed something
I fooled myself into thinking
I deserve from you.


here’s a new book for your consideration
called “I Repeat Myself: The Villanelles.”
I know it’s the same as my last book,
“Once Again: The Sonnets.”

I see you already looking away.

Bear with me, give it a read, give it a listen,
give it the old college try. Give it
your full attention, even if only briefly.
You won’t have to read it more than once.

A Tub of Eels

Behind a small head of smoke
on a Friday night, taking care
of business, keeping it real, tight
and clean, at the same time weeping
at all these near-exhausted cliches
which so perfectly summed him up
without one ounce of novelty needed
to make them more precise;
how did it happen
that he had become
so easy to describe?

He’d stopped trying,
he guessed. It didn’t feel
at all that way to him,
he felt so tired
from what he’d thought
was strenuous work to maintain
his freshness,
yet here he was:

it had to be a clerical error.
It had to be a mistake in the math.
It had to be in the calculations
that decided what was effort and
what was just getting by.

Behind a small head of smoke
on a Friday night, baseball on the
television, words slipping
around themselves
like a tub of eels, the way
they always have. Taking care of
business, the business
of herding eels; looking for
the outlets they use for escape —

and still he’s so tired
of himself. So tired and stale.
He’s been doing this
for longer than the cliches
have existed. They were cut
to fit him, tailored to his form;
they fit too well to just throw away
no matter how worn they all were.

To The Friend Denying Who He Is

Stop. Stop this.
You sang the corners and more.
I heard you. Everyone did.
We know who you are.

Stop. Stop this.
We saw you watching, listening,
writing. The backs of keno tickets
know who you are.

Stop. Stop this.
That you say you never this
is proof. We all say this. The “why you start”
stops mattering once it’s who you are.

Stop this, start that,
continue or not. Being is being.
A fist, a pen, a handful of snakes and roses.
You see them the same. It’s who you are.

That Brick

I am swarmed with the absolutes
whenever I sit with this world — nothing,
nowhere, everything, everyone.

Sit, trying to see details,
trying to examine the particulars
that vanish in the wash of

outraged experience. The older I get,
the more I am drowned in absolutes,
the more I extrapolate from

that brick on the sidewalk, most likely
left over from some long-abandoned
project, kicking around here

for so long I can’t recall
its first appearance. I fantasize
it’s a leftover not of building

but of destruction, a leftover
of streetfight, revolt, of windows smashing
in defiance of landlord and overlord —

fall headlong into
nothing, nowhere,
everything, everyone

and there I am again, out in the world.
Far away from the brick on the sidewalk
in front of my house. The one

I have kicked aside for years
and never picked up. Never looked at,
not much anyway.

Never tried to build
or break a thing with it.
It’s just a prop for my immersion

in the absolutes of theory
and what I ought to be doing
with this art, this life.

I should be ashamed
that I have never
lifted that brick myself, stopping

to notice the specifics of any concrete
adhering to the sides. The discoloration,
the pitting. The weight.

I ought to have known its particulars
before deciding if it was to become
weapon or poem.

Land Mines

This work is not for the cowardly.
Everything in a room or yard could be
weaponized upon first glance;

if not, it could be a key to a room
where land mines are stored, left
carelessly armed and all over the floor

the last time you were in there.
You’ve lost limbs over this before.
It takes time to grow them back.

The growth hurts like hell itself.
Nonetheless you forget all this
the second you begin to write.


First principle must be
that words matter more to you than
anything: ideas are in words

and all you need to release them
is a key that opens a chest full of
right words in which to trap physicality:

truth comes out of that
even if you must lie or fantasize a little
to strengthen a listener’s sensation:

based on what words you pluck
from your breath you recreate
this world as it truly is:

a paradox of course but
that is how it works
and always has:

ideas coated in words.
Truth coated in words.
Reality coated in words: it’s

mythic work — not lies,
enhanced sensing of how words
carry all, weight beyond meaning:

truth balanced on syllables
balanced on sensation and
under all, ideas. Bedrock.