Love always catches us loving superficial things;

Love is the mad, impetuous rush to embrace breasts, dresses, eye color, rings.

Here comes 2020, and we make a big deal of a date.

Can we save our love which died in 2013? No, the decade’s over. Too late.

All lovers suffer this paradox. Everything felt deeply

Was based on the trivial—

The most dramatic love, singing with poetry,

Was the one based on a raindrop whim.

The love which was dramatically full

Was the one which immediately became empty!

You asked me to give up the “good life,”

As your creeping heteropessimism

And woke disgust with “old boy”capitalism

Filled your heart, the more you saw me as someone who desired you as a wife.

I wasn’t reading the same woke signs

You were reading. I just thought you were being involuntarily cryptic, sad, unkind.

And you were. Love is never about the world at large;

Love is inane, private, trivial things.

Cleopatra gliding on her perfumed barge

Is not love. And when Frank Sinatra sings,

That’s not love, either. Nor Bruno Mars. Love isn’t Queer Theory

Or marriage, or socialism, or the “good life,” or years.

Love is you, confused by me, confused by you, crying small, small tears.






Everyone is being polite,

And that’s the problem with the poetry tonight.

Everyone praises, so I cannot tell

Whether I am doing well.

Publish me in your magazine;

OK. Now it’s impolite to say what else you mean.

Look at all these modern, busy bees:

Poetry’s unspoken absurdities.

The truth, which is both common and dear,

Enforces its reality then, and now,

But so coyly, I never know when, or how

Truth is calling, or not calling my name:

“Here I am!” But truth, and the search for truth are not the same.

Tonight we wanted to discuss the MFA:

Legitimate, or not? We were too polite to say;

Those who had one, taught in one,

Earned their living from an MFA,

Were too vulnerable. There was nothing we could say.

Polite is best when driving—traffic laws have one object:

Agree. To get home, I will let

You go first. No poetry here. The stop

Sign works best when it’s obeyed.

“G’nite Mrs. Richards, g’nite Sal!”

Delay here—so later you won’t get delayed;

Accommodate the motions

Of all; but why do we have such odd notions

Of poets and poetry? Poetry isn’t traffic.

The point of poetry is not for everyone to get along

By stopping and conceding and delaying.

Poetry is the immediacy of song;

Poetry runs the stop sign of all saying,

No poet can tell poetry what to say.

Poetry is not like truth, in that truth

And the search for truth are not the same.

Poetry is not polite, ordered by route and name.

Poetry is honest. Poetry seeks blame.

Poetry seeks revenge. Poetry knows evil.

Poetry loves crooked and level.

Poetry spills the beans.

Poetry peels off everyone’s jeans

And laughs. Poetry will not be dropped

For something else; song can’t be stopped.

Poetry, and what I’m saying

About you, are the same. Delaying

Is impossible. What I’m saying

On the poetry is the poetry,

Was the poetry, and will always be the poetry.

Poetry and truth are the same.

Jonathan! Do you see how hypocrisy dies in my flame?








I love war, since the fight over beauty

Fights to preserve the most beautiful beauty—

The flower allowing every bee a taste—

So that beauty is never a waste,

And beauty at last is wise and witty;

And beauties will knock down every door—

You know the old story: nature wants more.

And beauty? Beauty is both check and urge

On the cloudy bank backing the pinkish, war-like, surge—

And the most beautiful ones amass,

So that no one on beauty may pass.

Cain is self-evidently ugly and jealous,

History, the cleaning up of the murdering mess.

I feel great when love is avenged,

Even after years; across the centuries, love’s vigilance is ranged.

Weeds need peace to march along

Without one beautiful song.

Love is the lazy sublimity

Of my war’s competitive poetry.

Yes, with a sigh, I compete;

My verse for all that, still selfless and sweet.

You don’t believe it? Look:

I am not my poem. Even when it cries about you and me in this book.

Love became blood, when I, the aggressor

Contradicted the grim professor

On her behalf—

The silk, abstract, giraffe,

The lovely, panting, gazelle—

Who I knew so well;

Also, that professor,

Whose views on beauty insulted her,

The most beautiful, who embarrassed

Him—and his footnoted events of the past;

The sad women covered by plain cloth wrapped,

In the proper strapping of the strapped,

Not to mention the historic anomalies.

Now Beauty with beauty agrees,

And all those not beautiful are in dispute;

Unfortunately, the Committee of the Non-Beautiful agrees

To wage war against her, and her beauties.

Even though I love them, I don’t have the time

For them, all these beauties who rhyme,

Their poems which let me worship them,

Clothes on the flower, perfume on the stem,

The root crowned by a sigh and a diadem.

Established by our rank, we,

May not be in the rank of beauty;

For these, Plato said,

Are either soldier, artisan, or the philosophical godhead,

Not these wine goblets of flowers

Which furnish us our forgetfulness in our amber and austere hours.

Am I forgetting someone?

War acting like love, but with an empty gun?

Nature plotting increase with increase, the whole plot;

Artificial shortage, the only thing, finally, the wealthy villain has got.

Whip on these horses onto the easily invaded plain,

Go for the table settings.

I, the humble lover, remain,

Enabled by Abel, and watched by Cain.


How is this prison, if I’m imprisoned with you?

There are no fresh breezes here, no new

Sights to see, no intelligent, winding ways,

No green paths for any of these days.

But to me, confinement is true

When confinement is me

In confinement with you.

When it’s me who discovers

You—as all other lovers,

With places to go,

Fade—and by this prison I slow;

I look: the only fact

Is this prison, and by this prison I know

Facts, prisons, prisoners. To act

Like there is more would be the source of all my woe.

I leave hope, and all the cunning

Optimism I know—

Look, the rats are running—I go

Slowly into the prison where you

Are my face, and you are everything I do.

You have put yourself there.

Why do I need fresh air

When your breath holds my care—

When your arms, which have waited for me,

Hold me dearly against your poetry,

And your fate which drew me in

Is the only lesson with which I begin?

It is this poem—announcing prison—

Which is the limit, not of this prison,

But of this world—one I believed

Was real, and one I grieved.

A world I believed was everything. But no;

Your way; you; prison, and you—

All my prison, all I know,

Imprisoned in, imprisoned with you;

You looking in my eye, looking in yours,

You allowing me, now, to stay,

As I can, and will,

All prisoners, all poets, lying this still.




This poet is not only beautiful, she will write

On whether days are better for writing,

Or whether it’s better to write poems at night.

I bet you didn’t know this was important to know.

I didn’t know about these narrow streets of advice.

Advice runs through every town. In Kosovo

Her boyfriend was a menace door to door

And later was beat up by VA police

When he sought mental health counseling

Denied by the agency, out of reach

Since he tested positive after the weekend at Myrtle Beach.

You cannot have simple views of veterans

And wars. Free money breeds corruption.

And war? Get in uniform. Take the tour.

Work at filing in a mononotous job. War.

You’ll see how it all gets started, when

You can’t take it anymore. When the yen

Rises or falls against the dollar, when

You get home from work drenched in sweat.

When your job depends on suspicious people you’ve never met.

We know how the madness starts; if you only

Had some kind of skill to keep

You out of trouble. Why did you go

After short term pleasure? I know, I know,

You were sick of advice, sick of being taught.

You figured out too late how everything—everything—is sold. You bought

What was waved in front of your face,

Graphically. You trusted your eyes.

Beauty is a business. Yes, I like her poetry, too.

Veteran’s Day? What exactly does it mean to you?

The Great War’s Armistice. You know what they say:

What it really was: Screw the Germans Day.

She’s beautiful. She’s a poet. She’s also nice.

It isn’t the poetry. It’s the advice.






Image result for train at night in the station in painting"

Yesterday was your birthday,

And now I realize it was a holy day for me.

I didn’t do anything. I worked. I bought

Breakfast and lunch. I calmly thought,

With highest, secret pleasure, about you;

How strange to think that’s what I do:

To think all day, every day, about you.

But yesterday was your birthday,

And I believe it is a holy day—

Because I noted the day in my head,

And for no other reason. Your existence

Gives existence to mine. “Our love is dead,”

As they say, when two lovers break up; sure,

That happened. We don’t speak anymore.

In fact, I’m not allowed to speak to you.

And that makes it sweeter. I’m free.

To love without speaking, in secret poetry,

In sweet (or bitter) thoughts, I trace

All that happened: your beautiful face

Kissing mine. What else happened? I don’t know.

I was happy yesterday. My lunch was good. The train was a little slow.





Why shouldn’t I tell you only about myself?

This is all I know. I have not been

Conditioned to think I know the key to something else;

I will not lie, like all the rest.

Talking away from yourself

Is the best way to lie, but if I talk of me

Talking of me; if I cannot escape myself,

No lie is possible. This is truth and poetry.

They may say it’s selfish, or mad,

To be like this, to be self-obsessed;

But myself is not just what I know the best,

It is the only thing I know;

And if you are honest,

You know it, too.

You pretend and lie about everything else,

Don’t you?

Here is what we’ll do:

I will talk of me and you will talk of you,

Defending ourselves, not lying,

Exposing ourselves, laughing, crying,

Entering a heaven of intimacy

Defended by increasing self-examination and honesty;

If I pick up a guitar,

I will not teach; I will say here’s what I know I cannot do until you know it; we are

Receptacles ourselves of all knowledge.

We will examine ourselves in the world

Until we are geniuses in our honesty.

Your eye will be my eye.

And by ourselves there will be more expressed

Than all the science and all the manners pronounced by all the rest.

I’ll listen to you, and you’ll listen to me,

And in our irreverent originality,

With unbounded faith in ourselves,

No lie will mar our life and poetry.

And we will be like scientists, too;

Through pure honesty, I will be a scientist,

Who, until the end—oh God will there be an end?—loves you.





Image result for the song oh darling"

There is only yearning, and when I sing,

What will it be, but “oh darling?”

This is all I know, and the rest

Is a mystery; I love; I know that’s the best;

But what this means is, also, I don’t know,

Because love is never about what you know.

Love is only about when you sing

Those two words, “oh darling!”

The “oh” is the simple groan

Of passion, felt, expressed, but unknown,

In how it whispers or yells, inarticulate,

Passion the big expression inside the little bit.

There is nothing to understand, or know,

About that “oh!”

As far as the word, “darling,”

Here lies everything we might ever sing

In fondness, desperation, or praise.

There’s a recording; and it forever stays.

But most of the time we’re embarrassed; did you ever sing

To someone, “oh darling?”

I once loved curves and whims.

Now I love her thin limbs.

Tomorrow I’m going to sing,

“Oh darling!”

She will be surprised.

I’m going to discover a few things in her eyes.







Image result for shakespeare"

Let her love somebody else. She can. And will.

What if dogs could vote? No more “walks!” Open spaces for play!

Bark all the time! Woof! No more “dog food!” Only fresh kill!

Democracy gets whatever it wants. Some day

You will get a better government, where votes

Will not disappoint you; until then, don’t “educate.” Don’t say

Dogs are “damned dogs.” Don’t blame dogs. Democracy dotes

On winners, on breeding, breed-ist, dogs. Accept the loss.

Otherwise, democracy loses. And it’s not

Your loss, anyway.

When I say “Jesus Christ!” it offends my Catholic wife.

I was raised an atheist—but with Shakespeare, Christmas, and all the rest.

What the vulgar say has nothing to do with life.

Democracy is permanent. Losing to it, the best.

It doesn’t matter, outside the poem, what I say.

I don’t care if you’re black, Mexican, and trans-gay,

Or an earth model is on the spectrum of hot.

No one says you must love anything a lot.

She is allowed to

Love another. Even you.





Don’t look. Don’t read that book.

It is always better not to look.

The genius sees little, but what he sees

Invades his poetry with ease.

There is no exception; the world is full

Of horrible protesters protesting the horrible.

If you see too much

You will lose genius and its soft touch.

Superior knowledge will equal anxiety

And too many things inhibiting poetry.

The genius lets attractive illusion do

What sad knowledge is doing, too—

But sad knowledge

Thinks, and pays, and goes to college,

And is forced, in every instance, to acknowledge

The parts separated from the whole,

The parts which strive, in difficulty, for the soul of knowledge,

Studied and learned as parts in college,

Heaping up misunderstandings of the soul.

Being is majority, of which majority is the whole

Majority which, as the majority of the whole,

Represents the being of whatever lives as that

Whole thing which the parts are separated from,

And all the parts, to be real, become

Separated, the flaking off of sad parts

From the whole, and these hearts

Protest endlessly in pain

Like rain falling down on rain.

The protest is in vain.

I found my will

By saying nothing and standing still.

These parts, in cold, lonely, orbit

Would join the mass—but the movement runs them out of it.

The majority is all there is.

But wait. There is a quiz.

You have to figure out what the majority is.

There is only one sunshine in your eye.

The universe has no choice but to be one.

Amazed and sad, you see that I,

Happy poet, who wrote this one thing, am already done.






Image result for kanye loves god"

With that bragging confidence which drips cool,

Rap makes money, which allows you to be a fool.

But without money, your colorful attitude is annoying,

Hip hop a nerd mall cop when the money’s not pouring.

Simple beats and frank sexuality

May not be good poetry,

But visual brag,

Professional videos of modern classical music in drag,

Sampled thievery and party scenes,

Means the rapper doesn’t need to explain what he means.

The grunt is enough, the shuffling thug life

Cool to cuck, intriguing to wife.

But don’t ask me; rap songs all seem the same,

Like cigarettes, like bias, like anybody’s name.

What, you think I’m a racist because I don’t like Obama?

Do you think I hate my mother cause I don’t like your mama?


Here’s my chorus: Oh Shit.

Rap makes you confident; no person wants to be afraid,

And then some producer says hey you get paid.

I tried rap, and I’m still nice.

I know it’s just an act. But this is not an act: I’m your only vice.

You suffer, sorry.  This poem doesn’t give advice.

I saw your charity. So I knew you still loved me. That was nice.

Oh Shit.

Do you think you are good now? Is that it?






Image result for film noir bad guy"

The pundits kept talking “moderate”

And “suburban Republican women”

And I just wanted to scream.

There has never been a poet with a moderate dream.

Here, moderate does not exist.

The seasons take or give.

The airy cliffs frighten, or inspire;

The attractive view only in this light can live.

The rhyme scheme is either smooth or dire.

There is water, or graves.

There are melting ruins, or carefully hidden staves.

The least is not protected.

The old lives on, respected.

Or, sudden death

Mocks the intaken breath.

We don’t know what, from one minute to the next,

Will lie about, yawning; or jump up, and perplex.

There is no middle ground.

Either the poem is boring

Or it has a beautiful sound.

It is either: “I hate them, I hate them,

And because you hate them, I love you,”

Or: “I’m very sorry, I hate you, too.”

In America, how can the woman who is pro-life,

Love the abortionist?

The abortionist may love his wife,

The tallest mountain may be covered in mist,

But the moderate does not exist

In American politics.

The proud pro-choice block will not abide

Mothers not choosing; judgement looking at them and looking inside.

A “moderate” smoker. Sure, “moderate.”

Until you crave the one cigarette.

Mother? Poet? Do you want me, or not?

Moderate? There is no moderate:

I want to erase it, yes, that’s it,

Or, my God I love this poem a lot.









Image result for nativity scene in renaissance painting"

It is the holy time.

A political party is seeking a crime

They themselves are guilty of—

And love is used against love.

So spoke the evil right wing fanatic!

I loved. But I was in a panic!

The other party said.

Poetry is argument.

At least that isn’t dead.

Here is the rhyme—

Which indicates the crime.

But here is what you feared: a simple, cold breeze

Has come. The pledge of allegiance

Has become a strip tease. You are calm and proud

No more. Once, you were cunning and correct and loud.

You, too, now find,

You are hated, even for your most beautiful beliefs,

And those who hate you are deliberately blind.

The majority you strove

To join couldn’t love

The minority—mocked, and left behind;

You were, but you accuse them, of being unkind.

You had safety and numbers, but then you wouldn’t give—

Though mostly a child,

And the world was wild—

You merely enjoyed, and meanwhile others couldn’t live

Because you fed on what they couldn’t have—

And now they tell you, “you are bad.”

But you are not bad, they

Would have been as you; what they say

Is deliberately blind.

No one wants to seem unkind—

But they—like you—are;

Because death is, and this star

Is finally far too far.





Image result for woman waiting by the sea in painting"

You waited for me,

Though I was much delayed;

I orbited into the blue

And you stayed.

I found much to distract

Me—when I should have been thinking of you.

The years it took is a fact.

And yet you waited for me

By the vast, cold sea,

And every far star I was,

Was to you merely a mystery.

You waited by the shore

When you shouldn’t have waited anymore.

I came into starlight by accident,

Wandering far above the air.

You knew what the waiting meant

But didn’t care.

You waited for me.

The only reward, the poetry.



Image result for goddess crowned by the river in renaissance painting"

Only Democracy should be crowned—

Like her, who the Athenians found

Weeping by the spring where Narcissus drowned—

Like her, the daughter of Egypt, who found

Smiling in the river, the child, in the singing reeds around—

Only Democracy unites, inside division,

All love, without regret or derision,

Because love eventually divides.

She decides. She decides.

She knows what you want,

You beautiful infant,

And knows how you want it, too.

Democracy kisses you

And whispers, “think it through.”

It is—and is not—about you.

Passion does not move her,

Lies do not soothe her;

She tames the mob with a calm majority,

Replacing the mob’s energy

With something all understand:

Agreement out of disagreement,

Counted by her beautiful hand.

Don’t be afraid to lose.

Bend to the temporary rule of others,

Who will laugh at what you choose,

Because in bonding with love that dies

In the middle of the reed songs where the river lies,

Democracy waits with a terrible surprise:

Those who love the same as you,

Are vindicated, in both old and new.

Those, who mocked you, must see

You—loved by Democracy.

And when she takes away your day

You’ll cry. But love her. And obey.




Image result for pyramus and thisbe"

Because we cannot see

Words lying, poetry

Is impossible. Words are so good

At deception, poets, who would

Make you deceived,

Are never, themselves, believed.

The cunning it takes

To sweetly and obviously lie, makes

Poetry, poetry. But how can the poet lie

When words themselves deceive our ear and eye?

How can the poet fool

The frowning teacher in the school?

How can the poet deceive

The prose of life which makes us laugh and grieve?

I’ve been reading my old love’s poetry

For hours. I cannot see

One word meant for me.

I hear words. Not the poet. Not poetry.

This is why my muse seeks fame

Crying loudly hers, and my, name.








Image result for girl in renaissance painting"

The city officials were the ones to ask.

Organizing the event was an enormous task.

She had a personality which could tame

Any recalcitrance with the dropping of a name.

The poetry officials met with the city officials.

It would get done

Just as small trees with crooked branches grow under the sun.

Youth had no time for a PhD

But still they needed to stamp the poetry.

The right people wrote from LA

To recommend the low residency MFA

Earned in Brooklyn with her neurosis

Thanks to Rimbaud, the New Yorker,

A divorce, and two overdoses.

It was complicated to be

Keen to the right kind of poetry.

But the publisher said he would handle it.

Good had nothing to do with being a poet;

It was the news stories they mined,

Or the perception they were troubled, but kind.

And if you were to publish them,

They would be happy to publish you again.

But during these calculations there was also so much to do.

Me? I did nothing. I was the poet laureate of you.





Image result for poetic inspiration in renaissance painting"

You wrote about the day.

You convinced others. But here’s what the one you love has to say:

Your poem is not yours, not because

It is someone else’s, but because it is mine.

Inspiration is all. Who cares who wrote that line?

You wrote this poem when you were alone

And thinking of me, and thinking is everything.

How, you ask, is the poem not your own? Because just like love,

Once love expresses itself, if it is not mine,

It is not love. Poems work the same way;

The subject is unique, I am unique—prior to what you’re going to say.

Love and poetry inhabit the same line.

The poem told you what you wanted to hear.

Your poem was death, but called you, “dear.”

And we are all guilty, and cannot love.

As your poem becomes more perfect, it flies from your reach.

You are forgotten.  Your poem they teach.

You wrote this poem, and because it was good, it turned into mine.

It was given. Not yours anymore. The love, the poem.

Stolen, though you wrote it, in darkness, alone.

In your spitting fire, it was done.

But now it belongs to the air.

I should have written it,

I could have written it. I did. This day, this night,

Was yours; after thinking of me, it was yours to rewrite,

After I kissed you—which made you want me,

And all that I was. In every line

You wanted me, and all I loved—what’s unique is mine.

Think deeply. What is your poetry?

It’s the sweetest thing rhetoric can do.

You never wanted it to be you.




Image result for mother and child in renaissance painting"

Everyone is in their bubble,

Because the protection of life is more important than life.

If we were constantly exposed to love,

There would be no love:

Romeo and Juliette

Would be trying to find each other yet.

One mistake by this child

Is the end, there is so much wild.

We are forced into themes

That make truisms of our dreams.

I guess I don’t know

When I can come and when I can go.

The legends and the news stories are repeated

Until even surreal poems are depleted.

I cannot make my mark.

The delighted light keeps moving into the dark.

Too many are asleep, or on the island where

Necessity has pinned them there.

The invisible decenteredness of each piece

Requires itself—this doesn’t cease!

Do you see how each line

Of my poem defines what I can’t define?

And my noble voice, a mosquito’s whine.

I was going to say something to make you happy,

My words the gush of a sweet fountain;

There’s only embarrassment before life’s enormous mountain.

We have one choice: to be tragic, or boring;

To be safe and dull—or get into trouble.

The tragic is real, it’s easy to die;

That’s why I’m in my bubble.

I barely see you, I barely hear you,

But when I do, I see, and hear

Sadness, vulnerability, fear.

Tell that joke: I heard it before.

There’s too much coming and going.

It’s cold. It’s noisy. I built this door.

You never opened mine.

(We pay everything for these tours.)

You didn’t see mine. You were behind yours.



Image result for emily dickinson"

You’re a poet because you see how shallow

Everyone is, and you know in your heart

You are not shallow, but you don’t want to offend anyone

By telling them they are shallow.

Here’s the reason for poetry:

It’s not because you love the look

Of purple heather, and how it’s like the sea,

It’s because you want to be loved,

And are not as shallow as me.

Everyone wants to belong to everyone

But not every one is an Emily.

For every Emily, there’s a Bruce,

And in the sensitive poet war,

There’s no truce.

If you’re a poet named Bruce, and you want fame,

You better have an interesting last name.

I’m not a poet. I’m a guy,

And I look like Bruce. Looks don’t lie.

Fighting the shallow is the true poetry.

If Bruce wears makeup, that’s exactly

The shallow stuff people do

And that’s not you.

You know you’re not a Bruce, that’s easy,

But now you turn your attention to Emily.

You study her, and you find

She’s even more shallow than Bruce,

And this drives you out of your mind.

Poetry doesn’t like makeup and tattoos

And for every shallow selfie

And contrived self-deprecating remark,

Purple Emily moves further away from poetry.

And then there’s tough Meg,

Who, with sarcasm, takes Emily down a peg;

But this is an equally shallow move

And nothing you, as a poet, can love.

The shallow who try desperately to be deep

Are even more shallow than the shallow—

And just makes you weep,

Because nothing ruins poetry

Like learned obscurity.

Many are the obstacles to poetic fame.

Some involve a kiss

And some involve a name.

Some involve a publisher,

And one involves me,

Who knows you and judges you and loves you

More than your poetry,

Which nonetheless saves you, from the fate

Of love—which loves when it’s too late.




Image result for angel blowing horn in renaissance painting"

The poet is upset tonight. He heard the news

Spun in national story after national story. The elites are turning the screws.

As a child, he rooted for the Minnesota Vikings. He ate

Headlines. When he saw the news anchor and the broadcaster were the same, it was too late.

He wore a sports jersey ironically for years.

He found addictions. All that was legitimate came apart in recriminations and tears.

He doesn’t say much. He doesn’t love a lot anymore.

He sees the futility. Oh the energy and the difficulty of the stores.

He does recall ancient fields. Her unraveling kiss.

And he takes infinite comfort from this:

All those involved in the fake news scam are dead.

Before you judge his demeanor, he should be read;

The poems which came from his mouth in song

Live forever, and correct all wrong.


Image result for black and white photo poetry gathering it Italy"

It is better for all involved,

Especially those, for whom, at length,

We pretended to have loved,

That right now, seeing it cannot be good,

We stop this charade of poetry altogether.

If it cannot be good, it is better

That it not be done.

Why gather around a small light and say it is the sun?

It is obvious it cannot get any better.

The evidence is in the attenuated pleasure

Which attends black marks which we call

Poetry, so that an anecdote cheerfully made

About the poem takes us into the light

And the poem itself is nothing

But the darkest possible prose showing off inside thick shade.

If the anecdote (my father and I went to Italy)

Is better than the poem, in every case,

Why does the poem show its face?

Why does the poem have to happen?

Because of the gaudy line of long tradition?

Or does poetry—as you call it—bring—how do you say it—fruition?

But what if, by that very tradition which apparently causes you to sigh,

This isn’t poetry? It is the crowds. It is the Italian sky.

We might be surrounded by the other arts;

Natural scenery, or this room,

Which can be put inside a frame,

And writing on that photograph—

Look! A photograph—you can put your name.

This might be art. But do you think it’s the same

When you name your father, or name

The district in Italy, where you took

The time to browse. Did you learn to cook?

Or this might be of interest—name the bank

Where you withdrew funds that day.

You could be Pound, and the adventures of a crank.

It’s poetry. We’ll listen. We’re in the audience. Go ahead and say

Whatever it is that’s supposed to be poetry.

Somewhere, someone is painting right now,

Learning how paint might invoke

Fate—the criticism of each brushstroke,

The afternoon light dying; in the group of people sitting next to me, someone spoke

Of just another day like this, the shadow

Covering all. The reading is over. Should I socialize? Or go?




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I don’t know any format—except this one, Scarriet, now in its tenth year—which attempts to bring together every kind of poet in one place.

There are four kinds of poets who never touch each other and exist in separate universes: the formalist poet, the colloquial poet, the professional, and the amateur. Poets of radically different styles insult one another, stylistically, that is—the novelist is more like the poet than different kinds of poets from each other. I can no longer go to a library or a bookstore and seek “poetry” without entering a shooting zone of competing forms and sentiments.

The colloquial now dominates the professional; the beautiful and well-made book cover of the contemporary poet hides more f-bombs than rhymes.

The professional, with their prizes and book deals, wants nothing to do with the amateur—who posts their accessible love poems online. The gulf is such, that a person “who hates poetry” will sooner read, and even like, the amateur’s efforts, before the well-connected professional will deign to glimpse what, in their opinion, is trash (or perhaps to their jealous consternation, good) given away too easily.

One delightful thing I’ve noticed: how a few selected words from a poet’s work can explain the entirety of the kind of poet they are; as much as this is true, it validates this list, and makes it more than just an exercise in which a formalist amateur like myself attempts to ram together, in a feverish fit of schadenfreude, things which do not belong.

These poets do belong together—or, rather, they do not.

Yet here they are.

Thomas Graves, Salem, MA 12/4/2019


1) Laura Foley “to look back and see, on the hilltop, our life, lit from inside.”

2) Luke Kennard “I take the murderer for coffee.”

3) Ilya Kaminsky “What is a child? A quiet between two bombardments.”

4) Kathleen Jamie “Walking in a waking dream I watched nineteen deer pour from ridge to glen-floor”

5) Linda Ashok  “the moon licked up the landscape with her fervent tongue”

6) Fiona Benson “How light I was. How doubtfully safe.”

7) Ben Mazer “Some must be publishers, and some must be spot on, in a horse drawn carriage, taking in the dawn”

8) Sushmita Gupta “She gave a last look at her solitary car, in her garage, with seats folded down so paintings could lay, the slope that rolled down the hill that ended in a roundabout, with palms and coloured grass that looked like hay.”

9) Stephen Cole “You still disturb the meadow with your words.”

10) Julia Alvarez “I’ve broken up with my true love man after man”

11) Brian Rihlmann “nail guns pop pop pop I heard stilettos on concrete the lady of old Reno wandering”

12) Patricia Smith “Who shot you, baby?”

13) Joie Bose “I see you in all the faces I see, crisscrossing the pavements aimlessly.”

14) Indah Widiastuti “Who is the poem I wrote? He speaks a language I never use; read by those I never know.”

15) Kevin Young “We curl down the slide one at a time, blue light at the end.”

16) Joy Harjo “I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn to find the sun.”

17) Jill McDonough “I am not interested in makeup. I am interested in jail.”

18) Chelsey Minnis “People in their nightgowns, smoking cigarettes, they give great speeches.”

19) Nabina Das “It’s in love that we wait & let all other loves wither & waste.”

20) Eliana Vanessa “impediment of roses: and this is not the sort of thing you can control, no, how our bodies trembled, post-love, nor the way I will keep falling, to explain it, just so.”

21) Adeeba Shahid Talukder “Splinter the sun, wake all its ashes.”

22) Dorianne Laux “Broken the days into nights, the night sky into stars”

23) Sharon Olds “I caught bees, by the wings, and held them”

24) Alicia Ostriker “there are no pauses in this game”

25) Tishani Doshi “to fall into that same oblivion with nothing. As if it were nothing.”

26) Vidyan Ravinthiran “this isn’t the right kind of snow.”

27) Glyn Maxwell “he goes his way delighted”

28) Anne Carson “During the sermon, I crossed my legs.”

29) Peter Gizzi “I guess these trailers lined up in the lot off the highway will do.”

30) Li-Young Lee “From blossoms comes this brown paper bag of peaches”

31) Blake Campbell “And he entered, great spelunker, the resonant and ancient darkness”

32) Diana Khoi Nguyen “You cannot keep your brother alive.”

33) Marilyn Chin “I watched the world shrink into a penlight: how frail the court poet’s neck, how small this poetry world.”

34) Fanny Howe “We are always halfway there when we are here”

35) Babitha Marina Justin “It is rolling from roof to roof”

36) Meera Nair “You set us up against each other. Men against Women. We are all bovine.”

37) Anthony Anaxagorou “is that your hand still on my elbow?”

38) Tracy K. Smith “We wish to act. We may yet.”

39) Wendy Videlock “He watches ball. She throws a fit. She cannot stand to see him sit.”

40) Daipayan Nair “Autumn leaf! Nothing to keep—apart from beauty.”

41) Mary Angela Douglas “and let the tiny silver trumpets blow”

42) Carolyn Forché “What you have heard is true.”

43) Martin Espada “No one could hear him.”

44) Tina Chang “love is crowding the street and needs only air and it lives, over there, in the distance burning.”

45) Danez Smith “I have left earth.”

46) Ocean Vuong “this is how we loved: a knife on the tongue turning into a tongue.”

47) Eleanor Wilner “the blood that is pouring like a tide, on other shores.”

48) Marge Piercy “a woman is not made of flesh: she is manufactured like a sports sedan”

49) Yusef Komunyakka “My muse is holding me prisoner.”

50) Naomi Shihab Nye “Each day I miss Japanese precision.”

51) Terrance Hayes “I love how your blackness leaves them in the dark.”

52) Carl Dennis “Lending a hand, I’d tell him, is always dignified, while being a hero is incidental.”

53) Jeet Thayil “Some are sweet and old, others are foul-mouthed and bold. Mine is dead and cold.”

54) Victoria Chang “Her last words were in English. She asked for a Sprite.”

55) Kushal Poddar “ferns, orchids, hyacinths sprawl like insomniac veins.”

56) Karen Solie “We itch and prosper heavenward on bands of grit and smoke”

57) Richard Blanco “Stare until the trembling leaves are tongues”

58) Paul Muldoon “putting its shoulder to the wheel it means to reinvent.”

59) Safiya Sinclair “Isn’t this love? To walk hand in hand toward the humid dark”

60) Frank Bidart “Fucked up, you know you’d never fall for someone not fucked up.”

61) Nick Flynn “My therapist points out that fifteen minutes of movie violence releases as many opiates into the body as if being prepped for major surgery.”

62) Jennifer Moss “all beauty turned hostile”

63) Fatimah Asghar “your lantern long ahead & I follow I follow”

64) Hannah Sullivan “All summer the Park smelled of cloves and it was dying.”

65) Jamal May “The counting that says, I am this far. I am this close.”

66) William Logan “Don’t be any form’s bitch.”

67) Juan Felipe Herrera “No food. No food no food no food no food!”

68) Hera Lindsay Bird “it was probably love that great dark blue sex hope that keeps coming true”

69) Ae Hee Lee “She asks your husband to step in.”

70) Jay Bernard “I file it under fire, corpus, body, house.”

71) Sophie Collins “pails full of oil all dark and density and difficult for a girl to carry”

72) Hollie McNish “I let myself go cycling slow as I unbutton my clothes jacket unzipped helmet unclipped”

73) Zaffar Kunial “I didn’t know the word for what I was.”

74) Paul Farley “he fell up the dark stairwell to bed and projected right through to Australia”

75) Deryn Rees-Jones “The movie I’m in is black and white.”

76) Roger Robinson “he picks you up in the hand not holding the book”

77) Lloyd Schwartz “or if not the girl, then Vermeer’s painting of her”

78) Nalini Priyadarshni “but I love tea and so do you.”

79) Raquel  Balboni “Come off as harsh even if I’m friendly”

80) Robert Pinsky “When I had no temple I made my voice my temple.”

81) Emily Lawson “I step out to meet the wanderer: its black-veined hindwings”

82) Bruce Weigl “Why do we murder ourselves and then try to live forever.”

83) Steph Burt “I want to go home, paint my nails until they iridesce, clamp on my headphones, and pray to Taylor Swift.”

84) Merryn Juliette “There is no ceremony to her—she was simply there when yesterday she was not”

85) Thomas Sayers Ellis “It’s entrancement, how they govern you. The entertainment is side effect.”

86) Amy Gerstler “Here on earth, another rough era is birthed.”

87) Rupi Kaur “i change what i am wearing five times before i see you”

88) Forrest Gander “What closes and then luminous? What opens and then dark?”

89) Justin Phillip Reed “when you fuck me and i don’t like it, is that violence.”

90) Franny Choi  “i pick up the accent of whoever i’m speaking to. nobody wants to fuck a sponge.”

91) Emily Skaja “when night came, an egg-moon slid over the steeple.”

92) Mary Ruefle “Night falls and the empty intimacy of the whole world fills my heart to frothing.”

93) Aaron Smith “If a man is given dick, he’s never full.”

94) Donald Revell “Time might be anything, even the least portion of shadow in the blaze, that helpless Hare of darkness in the hawk’s world.”

95) Dan Sociu “people have infinite capacity for transformation, into anything, and I know that I myself can transform”

96) Ben Zarov “There are many, many wrong ways.”

97)  Adil Jussawalla “Twenty years on, its feet broken, will its hands fly to its face when a light’s switched on?”

98) Steven Cramer “no matter how we plead they won’t come down.”

99) George Bilgere “My father would take off his jacket and tie after work and fire up the back yard grill. Scotch and a lawn chair was his idea of nature. Even Thoreau only lasted a couple of years.”

100) Ravi Shankar “I watch, repose, alone.”


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I wish I did not think so much.

Thinking makes me afraid.

But on the other hand—

There is sun. And there is shade.

And really, what does thinking do

About the dark, the sound of breathing, you?

It’s not thinking’s fault. If there’s a crippled, tortured, natural, mess—

The pain is not from thinking more;

The fault lies with thinking less.

Thinking manifests itself in expertise,

Which is the only thing we adore:

The face, calm, the ball hit, the word found, in a breeze.

Philosophy makes thought plunge ahead

Into thinking we usually associate with dread:

The reason we die, the reason we think.

Let’s meet for dinner, let’s have a drink.

Let’s not philosophize tonight.

Let’s put all thoughts about thoughts out of sight!

But that will not help. Thinking about

Thinking is poetry. Love the fruit of all doubt.

Love and poetry, the end of thinking!

(Sure, let’s have a drink, tonight.

Will it be orange or blue?

See, I see thought catching up to you.)

Thinking will be about thinking,

That’s what thought is, in the end.

Do you love me? Do you think me? Are you thinking

What kind of card, what kind of kiss, what kind of word, what kind of poem, you will send?

Thinking. Not thinking. Thinking. Thinking is our fate.

Thinking. Even though you think it is late.





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Language does not do

Anything. It adds not doing

To our being. It is unthinkable.

Just as when my mouth kisses and loves, I drink

The undrinkable.

But when I do not love, I drink

Everything she and I think,

When, apart from each other, we cannot love and kiss.

That’s when language misses what we miss.

The poem makes me confess—

(This is a paradox, but not a mess—)

I guess that’s what I wanted:

Breasts she happened to have;

I loved her for letting me have them,

But not her, and she despised me

For wanting them too desperately,

Even as to love them too indifferently

Were also something bad.

Life and love, not language, makes us mad;

Language introduces the unthinkable;

Language does not.

And this saves us,

Who would otherwise rend and tear and eat

The undrinkable.


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