I’ve decided not to be among poets anymore
They smell to me of anarchy and whimsy
amplified to the point of pain till it swamps truth
All their misplaced love of words over action
Their bouquets of mystery obscuring the obvious
I know some who claim poetry will save the world
much as gun nuts and organic juicers do
who make the same claim with far more evidence to go on
Poetry only changes the world as a stiff breeze does
if it moves the people to action you can say it but not till then
So a poet who tells me this or claims it or stands on that hill
is someone whose words I expect to be a hurricane
but more often than not it’s a slight breeze of ordinary
or barely a leaf lifter’s worth of language they toss
and maybe they try and maybe they fail or maybe the world
is heavier than they ever believed but still they keep at it
as if it could matter what a poet might say
as if poets can’t die for what they might say
though they have and they will and they will once again
because people believe that old line about change
so I’ve decided not to be among poets anymore
even as I sit with a pen and plan fusillades and charges
as I sit with a pen and imagine I matter or what I do matters
I will not be among poets with their spiderweb gossip
I will not be among poets with their ardent machinery
I will not be among poets with their flagrant weak fists raised
until I can look at what I’ve done and say
I belong here beside them as weak as they are
as fragrant with idiocy and self-importance as they are
till I’m just as ready to swing in the breeze
or put my back to the wall
and go to death with them
Tag Archives: poems about poetry
I’ve decided not to be among poets anymore
I wish I had a Muse who could do for me
what some of you claim one does for you.
Oh, I do not doubt you
when you say it; I only know
that I have been alone
in this work. Nothing whispers in my ear
or comes to my bedside
to shake me awake in the dark
and say, “now then…now then,
here is the pen, and there is the book;
all you need do is take down
what I telling you.” Not me.
I have to scrape it up
from the desk while battling
fatigue and neuropathy.
I have to drag it out of me
myself. I have to, have to,
have to look at every word
like a nail in my eventual
coffin or more like one
that needs pulling from a board
I need to cut to make that coffin.
If I had a Muse I could farm that out.
I could lie back and laugh
at their cruelty in the name
of art while waiting for the glory
of seeing my name alone
on the Work. Instead
I’m here between the gas bill
and the rent scratching in the dirt
to free a sprout from a seed I planted
thirty years ago and forgot to water
until now, and yet it’s coming along
pale and proto-green and maybe
if I worry enough about that and
forget the bills it might have a chance
but I’m hungry now, and angry-handed
and in pain, and money’s tight
and I’m old and this is Work
I’d love to lay off on a Muse,
but per usual I’m in this alone
and if there’s a stray Muse to be found
anywhere, I’m sure
it would offer too little and too late
for me to even bother with a summons;
back to my stubborn
scratching, worrying, and
digging in the dirt.
I adore how each word represents itself
in the congress of language.
It stands up, demands,
cajoles, thunders. It makes itself
known. I wish I’d been born
a word instead of…this.
Had I been born a word myself
instead of one enslaved to them,
I might have been more secure
when I spoke, could have gestured
at myself in many situations
and just said…”this.”
I might have been enough
had I been born a word
instead of fumbling among them,
seeking to put the best of them
in the best order, hoping
to say something that validated me.
You were told
once and then again
that there are no rules
to this art and
shortly after were scolded
about how many rules you
They knocked you down and
made it hard to continue through
all those ghost rules that
were not to be found in one book
but were engraved instead upon the panes
of a henge of glass
Some you saw through and slipped past
while others cut you and some
were long broken but still standing
In the end you saw in them
what you needed and (as you
should do with any sacred space) you
gave of your blood and walked away
having changed it and
yourself by seeing
how the edges of the rules
were the center of the path through
Originally posted 2001. Revised.
words do not come independently
looking for equations to solve
or causes to exalt
work for me
to something underground and distant
from the way the words
draw attention away from themselves
and in tandem
toward a common end
only upon reflection upon the many
do first the pattern and then the path
so that to speak is
to stitch words together
and shoe meaning
so that meaning and I
may walk in steady pace
so when I get to where
I am bound
I can set language
and set meaning free
to dip itself in cool spring water
wriggle in the grass
and be itself
this is the nature
of the way I work with words
it is not the job of a poet
it is cobbler’s work
I’ve been apprenticed to a hard master
seated at the bench each day
I must be simple before the need
and sing as I work
at each day’s end I can feel the welts raised
on my callused hands
from building these verses
I make my bed at night
knowing I have come far
I will rise and set to work again
as if meaning
as if work
Prompted by a misreading of a Facebook field that actually said, “Write a comment.”
Start with a mountain range,
or a single peak, or a ridge
on the peak, or a string
of boulders, or a single boulder,
a stone, a pebble, perhaps
a clump of a few grains of sand.
You could do a novel on
a few grains of sand.
Multi-volume, intertwined plots,
unresolved conflicts — get these handled
before you move up to the continental
challenges. In your lifetime
you may never get there,
and woe unto you if ever the words
“compose an ocean” swim into
your field of view. That’s how
you die unfulfilled. A recipe for
drowning. A death sentence
you’ll never be able to appeal.
Too often now I stare at a screen
and try to recall what it was like
when I could easily change blank
into not blank.
Sometimes I’d make
a good thing, more often I would not.
However it ended, at least there was
a result. Back then emptiness
didn’t stare at me like an adversary
the way it does now. The challenge now
is to survive, more or less,
while fighting the whiteness of that void.
Yesterday, Aretha Franklin passed.
Today daylight is still sagging
in the absence
of her possibility.
Eighty years ago to the day
Robert Johnson passed. The moon
still hasn’t recovered all of the melody
it loaned him.
Somewhere in between them
Elvis Presley died — same day,
different song; I know people miss him
but what song we lost that day, I can’t imagine.
I’m not ready yet. If I go tomorrow
the only song I’ll take with me
is a small one, a pebble in a shoe
shaken out after a good day walking,
forgotten once the immediate pain
subsides. A tuneless whistle
to get by one of life’s little discomforts.
Right now, that’s all I’ve got.
So back into the empty white I go
to blotch it up then read the portents there,
turn them into full-blown glory. I want the earth itself
to mourn me. It may not happen. I will try.
I’ve done many things
but what I cannot apparently
is pull a poem.
Once I could do that
as easily as I could once
pull a trigger.
It might not be good —
I have been admonished
more than once
for abruptness, for
doing it too fast,
for not taking time
to breathe or aim
as I should —
but I could do it easily
and most of the time
strike where I aimed.
A poem is
beyond me —
ah, but the trigger
is simpler and more
to the point and while
it has been a long time
even scared and unsure,
even possibly at the risk
of making things worse,
I think I have no choice.
That’s how it always is
with a poem
as well. Right down to the
death resulting, but
in the face
of such a day as this,
who am I not to do
what I can.
(when you think of it at all)
as the opening
of petals, or of veins,
no matter how many times
I tell you otherwise,
no matter that you know
how many years I’ve been at it.
If it were the opening of petals,
I’d have long ago turned to fruit,
fallen to the ground,
rooted as seed, regrown.
If it were the opening of veins?
How red would your hands be
every time you touched
one of my poems? Would you feel guilt
waiting to read
the next one?
Would you wash
your hands first?
This isn’t as easy
as simply blooming or bleeding.
It is indeed an opening
but one more like cracking a safe
or picking a lock
and then pulling a door
until it swings wide. Inside, maybe,
will be flowers, maybe buckets of brimful red.
You can have those.
I live for the cracking, the picking;
for the sound — my God, for the sound —
of those moving doors.
With one glee-drenched hand I push myself closer to the edge.
I’ve always liked to think I do better there.
No matter how wrong I am I keep pushing.
A little off balance has become my motto.
Teetering is my preferred exercise.
A fall just confirms the risk I will take for small reward.
It makes me an artist indeed.
A tightrope’s frayed end for a paintbrush.
A crumbling ledge a blank canvas.
A cracked pane of glass over a sixty story fall for an empty page.
I press my nose into the fractures and watch a spiderweb grow.
I stare into the rotten soil above the view of where I’ll drop.
I wriggle my toes over the unraveled line above the drooling crowd.
I reach back and put one sticky hand into the small of my own back,
and fall forward wondering if it will be at last enough
to make a masterpiece.
While working on someone else’s work
strictly for my pocket’s improvement
I’ve been thinking all day of
cresting a deep drone tone
played on a dark electric guitar
as if it were a wave far out at sea
racing toward land overnight
across the whole of an ocean
moving toward the shore of a stage
where it will break
and alter everyone in attendance
with a drench of black sound
I don’t know how to create it
and from guilt over things undone
I’ve touched no guitar today to try and learn
But tomorrow — come tomorrow
I’ll put in less time on someone’s job
and bettering my normalcy
Instead will surf the deep ocean
riding the imperceptible wave in my ears
from origin to end to see what comes with it
from abyssal depth or strange port
as if I were a brave sailor and not
a prosaic and mundane slump of a man
worried about bills and chest pains
to the exclusion of making the music I’m here to make
along with words to ride the wave
all the way over the shelves of shore
into the high tide line
so everyone there gasps and says
they were glad to be present when it came
to be present for such a sound
When I am lost and disconnected
my retail therapy
is to buy a new pipe
or flask. The process
of breaking in distracts me:
do I go with bourbon or Scotch,
dense purple or loose green? At the end
I’m still lost and still disconnected
but warmer. I own a lot of flasks
and pipes, but can always add more
and that gives me something
to look forward to.
When I’m less disconnected
my retail therapy is
to buy a folding knife. Do I go
with assisted open or simple
old folder, liner lock or frame lock
or old school switchblade
from a disreputable source? I tell myself
it’s the workmanship that draws me,
but I know better, you know better.
I own a lot of knives: not as many
as I once did, but I can always buy more.
When I am lost and restless and need
to reach out on the deepest level, seeking,
my retail therapy is to buy a guitar.
I lose what little sense I have and
the last money in my pocket for the joy
of stumbling the same old chords over
the stiff strings of something new, and even if
nothing or no one answers, I try. I struggle
toward nothing new with the same hands
that I’ve always had, I try. I own fewer guitars
than I used to, but then again, I try less, too.
When I am broke, I write.
I don’t have to feel anything
when I write. I don’t have to
pretend it’s going to work
this time. I don’t have to pretend
I know what “working”
even means anymore.
Is any one poem
better than a pipe,
knife or flask? Is this keyboard
better for me than a fretboard?
I can’t say. I just know
I’m broke more than I’m not
so I have a lot of poems
and though I’ve not spent a penny for them
they still cost me plenty.
Sometimes it’s good
to give up and become
a camera in order to
choose a long view over
a close up, deciding upon what
to focus to the exclusion
of all else. Sometimes
it’s better to shrug and become
a microphone hooked to a
recorder and catch all the noise
for you to sift and edit to your tastes
later. Sometimes it’s best of all
to write yourself a role in a grand play
and play it in context, with measured,
Then comes the moment
when you cannot transform into
the tool or medium of your choice
and you are forced
to be human,
finally aware of how much
you have been privileged
to experience life
on whatever terms you chose,
and next you may rage and roil in pain
or fall into a swamp of tears,
but that is when you will begin to understand
that from then on, whenever
you are moved to reach for art,
art will no longer be a choice.
“…there is a certain amount of writing that can only come from a monastic space.” — St.Vincent
Alone. A lost tree
seeking a forest — thing about
trees, though, is they
can’t move so is it lost at all
if it’s living where it’s
been planted? Perhaps
solitary is a better word
if it is a happy tree. It stands by
itself, seeking best words.
All of its time caught in a web
of slow growth and searching.
Speaking of best words,
happy doesn’t enter into
a lone tree’s vocabulary.
Say instead it’s self-contained
and always fixed upon
what it grows from: it grows
from matins through lauds
to vespers, morning prayer
through to night prayer. Speaking of
St. Vincent, musician and not
saint, it is always possible that prayer
may become song. Speaking
as man and not tree, I refuse
to see difference between those
words. Speaking as a solitary,
i am not ashamed to grow bark,
resolve to be rooted,
settled without patronage.
St. Vincent non-musician was
patron saint of poor people and vintners.
Never an extra word for poets. I am
poor and I am drunk on my assets:
I speak of course of words, prayers,
songs, monastery walls,
vows, oak, bark, and bite.
When I lose myself
in sleep while writing
I will sometimes
find upon waking one odd line
in an otherwise perfectly
coherent paragraph or stanza.
I call those the cracks
where the light leaks in,
a concept I admit I borrowed
from that Canadian poet
I never liked, the one
I feel guilty for not liking, the one
everyone loved right up
until he died and then
they loved him even more. Anyway,
upon waking I’ll sometimes find
a single line, a crack full of light
in the middle of work I’d finished
in a fever, trying to get my point across
before darkness fell, and I’ll look at it
and scratch my head and chin
and try to decide if the light’s
from a window or a fire, and if
it’s from a window I then decide
if I should close it and keep that light
out of this poem, then decide if I should see
if the line belongs to another poem
and go to the room where that one lives
and make the line comfortable there instead;
and if it is from a fire I then decide
if I must extinguish it, bask
in its warmth and try to contain it
within this poem, or use it to burn
the whole poem down so I can sift its ashes
for something on which to build anew
that starts with that line as a cornerstone.
Whatever I do, before deciding
I stare at the crack and the light inside
and the older I get the more I feel
like a baffled king composing, one who knows
not everyone will love what I do
or how I rule, but the light’s still there
and the line’s been let in, and
regardless of what I do with that line
it’s holding me hostage until I choose.
Someday I too will die, and some
will remember me fondly and some
will shrug me off and say
I never made much sense to them
in the first place, the way I feel
about that croaking Canadian
who I must admit had some
damn good lines that made me
sit up now and then and put
my distaste on hold and say
Hallelujah, that light’s