Why You’re One of the Few People Who’ve Ever Heard of Me, & Other Goodies

For a few years, back in the mid-0’s, I had some (very modest) success submitting my poetry to journals.  I limited myself to print journals, it being a time when people respected online publication considerably less than they’re starting to do now.  In an average year I’d submit about 300 poems and get about 30 accepted–a good percentage actually, but I was becoming increasingly annoyed with editors, who couldn’t seem, for one thing, to be able to print my work without numerous misprints–including work that had been sent them in emails and which they could’ve just pasted in.  There were also a few editors who assumed that if my poetry didn’t come up to their standards, I’d appreciate their suggestions:  but I’ve always been violently allergic to workshopping of any kind, even from close friends, let alone strangers who didn’t approve of my work.  I never submitted anything I didn’t consider finished.  I was irritated enough, at that point, to abandon submitting altogether.  The infinitesimal extra notice it brought me wasn’t worth the aggravation.

Then in 2008 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  My desire to see my work in print while I still had time, in a way I could control, overcame my desire for mainstream recognition.

I began self-publishing using CreateSpace (a service there are ethical issues with for some, but none major enough to drive me away), and this month am about to release my twenty-first and twenty-second book.

I’ve occasionally included poems I was less than satisfied with, or which I came to have second thoughts about, but in the main I think the quality of my self-published work is pretty high.  The reasons why I chose this mode of publication are still valid for me, though my cancer hasn’t become more serious, or treatment for it more urgent, in the past ten years.  Recently people I respect in the writing community have been encouraging me to start submitting again, and I can tell they deplore my self-publishing practice, judging it only appropriate for poets of lesser talent than mine.  As fans, they also want me to have a wider audience.  I appreciate their attitude, of course:  I’m not immune to the wish for more–or more “official”–notice.  But the main approval I seek is still my own, and if my medical situation does become more crucial, I’m preparing a Collected Poems that will eliminate almost all the badly-conceived work.  Till then I prefer to go on being known to a limited group of people, through personal encounter.

Of the latest books, only one is actually new.  Unpoems collects some shorter prose from the 80’s and 90’s, before I started concentrating on poetry:  my novelette Baked Squid, two short stories, “3 Trips to Victoria” and “Walter’s Day,” two plays, Odysseus among the Suitors and efficiency, and a children’s book (not), Plubb Grows Ubb.  All these pieces are worth reading, if I do say so myself!

The new book is last year’s output of poems, The Sonnets etc.  2017 was a year in which I wrote some of my best poetry ever, especially the 77-poem series The Sonnets.  (77 is half the number of Shakespeare’s sonnets–a move my son Gus calls a really arrogant way of being humble.)  Somehow the sonnet form (well, a free-verse approach to it) propelled me into a higher, more powerful diction, effective for dealing with topics beyond my usual private themes.  For example, here are the final eight sonnets, named after the eight trigrams of the I Ching:

Heaven:  it’s the language the objects use

to declaim themselves, the clarity of order.

Arch and leap of sky are what first give to

our grasp city, wood, ocean, mountaintop.

These name themselves against shifts of

cloud, lightshaft, star huddle, pounding day.

Their names are where the rest of things

end.  Their identities are contests.  They’ve

taken from the sky the space where they

stand, denied it, bowed to its hovering.

Call it the litany of differences, law of

rising up and out.  Wisdom, eyed and

shouldered like the owl, lives in the sky,

picking out prey from high above, hooting.


Lake:  a simplicity of relationships,

candor of trades and struggles.

Lilting tall-legged bug on the water

flapped into maw of shining frog.

Grove sheltering in bristling night

the swish track of otter, his roll

splendoring himself with drench.

The pebbles on the bottom bouncing

over smoky clay.  Wide, wide the

paths of sound, dips and dangles

in sleek muffled air.  The way the

world is layered and interleaved,

fish nosing invisible food in the

margins of twiglife, heron-stabbed.


Fire:  not change as such, but

everything’s habit of wavering

outside its native shape, tipping

its wobbledance yellow to blue,

drawing up and forfeiting heat

in the same motion.  Brightness

ever an exchange for hard black

disintegration, fuel of life also

its consuming.  Nothing can

stop without dying, and dying

is its own pyre.  Over the flame-

traveled, smoke stink rears to

heaven, where the buzzards

wheel, deprived of the raw.


Thunder:  thunder is the happening of things,

their route through time, the air snapping back

into the past they’ve just created.  Things

aren’t only noise, but the part of them that

isn’t is too quickly burned and gone.  Their

noise is their mattering to us, or not:  a low

grouse in the unclear distance or the very

atoms of here ripping asunder with a crack.

To me with my lightning panic, the thunder’s

both helpful and unfriendly, signal of both

safety and unease.  And thunder as time

is also time’s own demise, a future without

event and a present without presence, just

hollow big booming of a frigatebird’s chest.


Wind:  the invasion of the other,

of a spew that alters your temperature

and shoves your eyes closed on grit.

Enemy, friend, or lover (namely both),

you walk against it from now on,

a helpless lean.  You weakly want

the wind to be your own breath, be

the stuff that can come out of you

because you’ve lured it in—but it will

always be its own, however mingled

it lets itself be with yours.  Remember

to it, you are wind.  You whip the hats

off one another’s heads, lose them

cawing to the faraway trees like crows.


Water:  or the other ceases, and so do you,

in a dark deep whose floor is a strange

working engine, a huge transforming hand.

To drown, to be unmade as a single life,

to know a last vortex—we call it commitment.

We know, beyond any logic, there’s another

side, a springing, a joined pulse.  A mere

wander of light in a stranger’s eye noticed

offhand in a public room, a mere stoop or

settle of limb, a mere word:  these are both

the mouth of the whirlpool and its unspeak-

able egress, the golden land discovered at

the individual’s sinking, over which, freed

from the mariner’s neck, wings the albatross.


Mountain:  but myself is larger than myself.

I feel it shadowing me and over me

all my life long, but hardly see its powered

veins of seething stone.  It’s too close

to get a look at, and I’m too tiny, scrambling

along it, valley to valley, ledge to ledge.

It will at best send intimations of its size,

the ways it faces, the hues and denizens

of its slopes, the icy moan of air at

its heights.  Those are what? a prickle

on my neck that makes me turn around

and peer backward, but backward just

as vacant as forward, a cold still glade

where the note of the varied thrush descends.


Earth:  accept growing up.  Accept growing old.

Accept that death is where I’m headed.  And

those I love.  And the world.  And the worlds.

Earth receives and holds, never acts but never

fails to be active.  Its roots are fingers twined

around rib and pelvis, spine and skull, cracking

through them with the slowness and strength

of a blossom.  Something or someone else then

teeters up out of it and stretches straight, and

orbits the neutral bestowing light, smug,

loudvoiced, hearty with sap.  But the earth

holds the rowdy growth to itself, grips its heels,

pulls its head lower, lower, over the decades,

like talons of a hawk whose eye is stern, firm.