April 2000 Café Society's Poetry News Update
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An Interview With Ward Kelley

Ward Kelley

Ward Kelley is a 49 year old business executive with 3,600 people in the division reporting to him. In a sense, he maintains that the daimon that propels his occupation also propels his poetry. He tells me: "Gertrude Stein once said, "If Mr. Robert Frost is at all good as a poet, it is because he is a farmer -- really in his mind a farmer, I mean."

"Am I a businessman who writes poetry, or a very minor poet successful at business? Who knows? But my daimon propelled me into such a good financial position that I could now quit my business dealings and comfortably write poetry the rest of my life . . . yet I am afraid to quit for fear my daimon will leave me, or my greed will taunt me for decades."

Formerly Ward managed distribution centers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, Arizona and Illinois. He now lives with his wife outside of Indianapolis and is currently toiling with much determination on their second crop of children, having adopted four wonderful girls and fostered several others.

Ward is new to publishing his work, but he has been fortunate enough to enjoy some initial successes, and has published 398 pieces since late '96. Current successes are: being nominated for the 1999 Pushcart; completing an interview with Israeli poet Elisha Porat (1996 winner of the Prime Minister Prize for Literature); being accepted by Rattle for the second time; Sunstone, Porcupine Literary Magazine; the Ezines Pif, 2River View, Oblique and Offcourse; and by print magazines Potpourri and Skylark -- each for the third time. He was also selected as the Featured Poet by the Ezine Seeker, and the Canadian Ezine, Pyrowords.

Abraxis, Ariga, The Astrophysicist's Partner Speaks and Calliope.

Two novels, "Divine Murder" and "Keenly Alive, Tony," are represented by The Sternig & Byrne Literary Agency

Of the 398 published pieces, some have found their way into: The GSU Review, Limestone, The Listening Eye, The Lucid Stone, Mad Poets Review, The Old Red Kimono, Porcupine Literary Magazine, Potpourri, Rattle, River King, Skylark, Sulphur River Review and Sunstone.

Poetry L & T: When did you first start writing poetry, Ward, and why?

Ward Kelley: The when is easy - around twelve or thirteen years of age. The why is more difficult to describe. I usually refer to it as a compulsion, although one struggles to see compulsion in a twelve year old. Yet it was there. I was a morose but literary little tyke.

Poetry L & T: Your poems have been called "bio poems" by the Israeli ezine Ariga. Which life events have shaped your poetry the most?

Ward Kelley:I'm glad Ariga named these things, since I had been wondering what to call them for quite awhile. Some editors endorse the bios; other editors hate them and refuse to use them. I, of course, like them, but also find a fascination in their ability to cause such strong reactions, both pro and con.

So far as life events, I would at first think to say, pretentiously, my birth; in that I don't know what exactly ignited these torrents but something was there right from the start. They first sprang forth -- apparently all by themselves -- in childhood. However, a unique event did occur when I was nineteen. An English professor sought me out to tell me I had written the perfect poem. My reaction to this bit of news is similar to how a Kansas City supervisor recently described his reaction to being promoted years ago, "my head swelled and my brain shrank."

Somehow I concluded from this that I was meant to be a novelist, and spent the next twenty-seven years writing novels. Six or seven novels later, two literary agents later, all the prose languishes. This appears to be a good place to thank my long-suffering agent, Jack Bryne, who would starve if he depended on me for income; he has really been wonderful.

But back to how poems are born -- one night in '96 I was returning from the west coast on the redeye, sitting up there at 30,000 feet, staring at my laptop, weary of prose. For some reason I decided to try a poem, and zap! -- the poem abruptly sizzled to life with little thought on my part, and I knew I had stepped on the power-rail of literary luck. This piece was soon picked up by Skylark, the periodical of Purdue at Calumet, and I was off. It's now 500 poems later.

Here's the piece the professor picked out back in 1969:

© Ward Kelley

When the shining sins of youth
reveal their strength upon my love,
and jesus never fought a dragon
half the size of my shiny youth,
I may, for one quiet moment,
fight my dragon self.

So when the shining sins of youth
are dispersed like morning dew,
done and dead by my shiny new sun,
deadly done by you my love,
I am, for many raucous moments,
a risen and fire-breathing jesus.

Now that I'm so far away from it, the poem appears pretty mild, and I find little perfection in it. But back then it side-railed me from poetry for twenty-odd years, catapulting me into prose. Curious.

The last life event I would choose is my incessant reading of history. In my studies I often come across events that make my heart beat faster as I recognize them as poetic topics. The fate of the Taino peoples, for example, or Joan of Arc. I really haven't gotten over Joan in the past three years as I compulsively keep turning over the stones of why we have a societal tendency to kill our own saints. Then there's Puma Jones who unexpectedly popped in regarding the judgement of one's own soul. My only rule for a bio poem is that the subject must be deceased. Still a morose kid.

Poetry L & T:Have you found that your working life as an executive has provided inspiration for your poetry (for example, working trips to other countries)?

Ward Kelley: No. Business is the opposite of a poem. I often think about Wallace Stevens in his juggling of the insurance world and poetry. Poetry, I think, is the opposite of career endeavors, in that poetry requires the letting go of will and effort. The better a poet learns how to do this, the swifter the poems flow. Career, though, requires infinite hard work. And the harder a person works on a career, the better the chances of success.

A proof of this can be seen by reversing the above equation - careers suffer greatly from an absence of effort and a sole reliance on intuition, while poems suffer immensely from pouring on effort and struggling for completion.

Creative people in the business world always need to be aware of those opposing sides of their drive to achieve. Wallace Stevens, I think, was a master of this. Yet where the two worlds do indeed overlap is in the drive to accomplish something. I often say the same daimon that drives the poetry, drives the business success. Compulsion again. In the business world we call it anal retentive.

Poetry is much more difficult than business.

Poetry L & T:Which well-known poets do you read and admire the most?

Ward Kelley:I'd divide them into three categories: poets of the past - Dickinson, Eliot, Plath, Dickey, Amy Clampitt and Robert Penn Warren; poets currently writing - Sarah Arvio, Yehuda Amichai, Mark Jarman, Susan Wood, Robert Bly, Lyn Lifshin; and those currently on the web - I follow Elisha Porat, Janet Buck, Leslie Blanchard and John Horvath, Jr.

Poetry L & T:Your poem "Emily's Fly", in the March Edition of Poetry Life & Times, has a footnote about Emily Dickinson. When did you first learn of her work?

Ward Kelley:I enjoy your questions, particularly since they make me realize there's so much I don't know about myself. I've been staring at my screen for quite awhile now, trying to think of the moment I became an Emily groupie. Obviously we become aware of Emily in grade or high school, but in my case I dismissed her as a 'light-weight' due to her nature poems, and to this day I can't say I share her enthusiasm for the outdoors (I'm a proud, unrepentant couch potato). Later in life I learned that, in the words of anthologist Brenda Hillman, her two largest subject categories are "Soul" and "Death." So us morose people are drawn to her flame. Her stuff such as 'Dare you see a Soul at White Heat?' 'I died for beauty,' 'I heard a Fly buzz - when I died,' and 'Because I could not stop for Death,' knocks me out every time I read it. And isn't this, then, the mark of a great poet, one who can knock you out year after year?

It gets worse - this groupie thing. A couple of years ago I was on a business trip to Massachusetts, and realized I was only a half hour away from Amherst, the place of Emily's homestead. I took the afternoon off and drove there, touring the house she had sequestered herself inside for the last twenty years of her life. You know, one could make the case that her very life was lived as a poem, with her white dresses, her refusal to go into society, or her term for herself as a 'wayward nun' and calling her own poems, 'bulletins from Immortality.' I'm sad to say I was the only person on the tour, so people don't exactly stampede to her grave the way they do to Jim Morrison in France, or Princess Di.

And still it gets worse - I troop off to the cemetery where Emily is buried, aghast that I'm actually outdoors, walking in the sun of all things, yet determined to see the famous 'Called Back' she instructed to be inscribed on her tombstone. Finally I make it to the cemetery and manage to find her family's plot. Abruptly there it is, within reaching distance behind the wrought iron fence: her weathered tombstone . . . with tiny pebbles and withered flowers placed on top (more like Morrison than I had thought). I want to touch the top of it, and scan behind me to make sure no one will catch me in this act of reverence. I reach out my hand, hesitate, reach again, then caress the top - exactly at contact, a church bell tolled and scared the crap out of me. I jumped back then looked down the pathway and received a second jolt. Now facing me was a large tombstone trumpeting the overbearing, engraved word, WARD.

One last point about Emily - who once said her business is circumference - I find great fascination in the concept of the soul's circularity. Emily's inscription of 'called back' can surely be interpreted as meaning she was once there and is now called back. In this vein, it's interesting to me that Eliot had placed on his tomb the legend, in the shape of a circle, 'in the beginning is my end, in the end is my beginning.'

At the Holyoke Holiday Inn, the evening of the Emily homestead visit, this one came out, later picked up by Rattle:

The Emily Tour
© Ward Kelley

I stood in your room . . .
I touched your bed,
and looked out the window
in front of your small writing
table, my weight twisting groans
from the wooden boards of your floor,
here where you hid for so many years . . .
yet in the affairs of human beings,
you have made a room for us all
to come and look out certain windows.

Oddly, I was the only person on the tour,
and the young guide, nearly a child
now a college student, took me through
your house . . . your hair was red
and curly, she said, and she showed
me a note where you wrote that your eyes
were the color of sherry left in the glass.

At your grave, I was again the only person
in the cemetery . . . I touched your
headstone and couldn't
think what to say when
the church bell rang.

Fleeing, I was halted
by a tombstone bearing my own name . . .
and I left West Cemetery, sliding out
quickly between certain coincidences.

Outside on the summer sidewalk,
some low-hanging tree leaves
kindly brushed my hair back from
my forehead, and I talked myself
into thinking it was nature's
compensation for when I
caressed your headstone,
over a hundred years
away from you.

Artist's note:
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), New England poet, is one of the country's greatest poets. Spending nearly all of her life in Amherst, Massachusetts, the last half in relative seclusion, Emily came to be known as eccentric. Besides rare contacts with people outside her immediate family, she wore only white dresses and sometimes referred to herself as a wayward nun. Regarding her poems - only eleven of 1,775 poems were published during her lifetime - she advocated the "propounded word." Her word for herself as a poet was "gnome," and the poems themselves she called, "bulletins from Immortality." Her last communication was written the day before her death, a short letter sent to relatives: "Little cousins, - Called back. Emily."

Poetry L & T:What would you inscribe on your own tombstone?

Ward Kelley:A line from one of my poems,
"Our souls are meant to mourn our mortal days."
I'm planning, you see, to be morose in death too. Indeed what better time to be so?

Poetry L & T: Your bio mentions the children you have adopted. Have you written many poems about, or for, children?

Ward Kelley:Not many. For the most part I've grown tired of writing about just me and my current life. I look at my earlier stuff and call it the 'me, me, me' period. I now prefer to find me -- my own humanity -- in history, in that what does it mean to be of the human beings? What are we meant to do for our own souls in this particular slice of history?

I tackle these questions by thinking whatever the true meaning of life, it surely has something to do with children. So I'm lucky being married to a good woman who shares this sense of purpose; she too is long-suffering over my shenanigans, and when the current crop of kids and grandkids become particularly boisterous, she accepts my excuse that the muse calls me to my office. For example, currently I'm typing furiously behind a locked door while in the distance I hear muffled cries of glee, or perhaps it's murder.

A few weeks ago, though, I did produce a piece about children that fits the montage I seek out between the bio and the poem:

I Look In This Child's Face
© Ward Kelley

I look in this child's face,
and I have such fears
in the sight of her innocent
beauty, her simple joy
to be alive, I have such
terrible fears that some
cruel fate will befall
my lovely little girl . . .
I always think to figure
some way to lock her
away from the evils
of the world . . . is there
some way to keep her
always safe? Where
do these grinding fears
come from? What is
the purpose of such
dark premonition?
I take her face
in my palms,
kiss her forehead,
and smooth back
her hair again
and again as she
smiles and smiles.

Artist's note:
Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) writes of a trip to India where he sought out the celebrated Hindu teacher, Sri Krishna Menon: "The teacher in this tradition always answers questions. He doesn't tell you anything you are not yet ready to hear. So I said, Yes, I have a question. Since in Hindu thinking everything in the universe is a manifestation of divinity itself, how should we say no to anything in the world? How should we say no to brutality, to stupidity, to vulgarity, to thoughtlessness? And he answered, 'For me and for you -- the way is to say yes'."

One hopes that a lifetime of study can achieve Campbell's realization, and kind acceptance, of the yes. As you can see by the poem, I'm nowhere near the yes part yet.

Poetry L & T: You have done well to have had a lot of poetry published over a relatively short period. Which publisher gave you your first break?

Ward Kelley:Actually it was Poetry Motel in 1996. I published a little back in the early 70s, then went one my poetry hiatus with the novels. These last three years I've been fortunate to be accepted with some regularity by print publications Skylark, Potpourri, Möbius, Rattle and Midwest Poetry Review; and by web ezines Writer's Choice, Ariga, San Francisco Salvo, Pyrowords, IRELingus, Sonata, Unlikely Stories and Ygdrasil.

Poetry L & T:Your own website is well-presented, with Real Audio recitals available. What, in your opinion, should be avoided on a poetry website?

Ward Kelley:Thank you. My site was developed by my line editor, Holly Hollan, down in Texas -- she'll be glad to hear of your comment.

I try to keep it non-commercial. I list several of my own manuscripts on the site, but send them out for free when the reader fronts the postage. Really it's a great honor to have people ask to read the collected results of my compulsive affliction, so I try to get them in their hands painlessly.

What else to be avoided? I've only had one irate email as a result of the site. Where this sole negative response is most likely a testimony that few people actually go to my site, this reader complained about my picture being on every page. My wife pointed out, 'now imagine if he had to live with this face every single day.' So I see what he means now.

We are really being swept into the vanguard of what the web can do for literary endeavors. When I stepped into it March of '98, I had no idea it would become a more consequential format for my writing. For instance, I have never heard - not once - from a print reader (other than editors), but every two or three weeks I get an email from someone who has read something of mine on the web. Even payment-wise, the web had been considerably more generous than print, but don't read too much into that - I'm not on fire selling these poems. Also I think the web has the ability to readily deliver another art form born of the poem, one where some web editors artistically combine poems, music and paintings to create a poetic montage among various impressions. Malyn Freeman of Sonata comes to mind; also this weekend I was emailed the sites Mirata and Born Magazine, and they are two good examples of where the literary web is going.

Poetry L & T: Do you think that self-publication on a website can help a new poet's prospects of being discovered by a respected publisher?

Ward Kelley: Hope springs eternal.

Poetry L & T: Conversely to the previous question, do you think that the Internet can allow too much poor poetry to be made public?

Ward Kelley:I'm not sure if there is such a thing as too much poetry, poor or good. I don't mean to be flippant here, but instead I see it as akin to radio propagating so much pop music. Enough exposure to any kind of music will eventually lead the listener to broaden their tastes; so in this sense mass dissemination of pop music is ultimately good for jazz and classical. So too, I see the web disseminating huge amounts of poetry. It can only be good for us all.

I take this stance because I live in fear that a real poet will email me someday to suggest my stuff belongs in the 'too much poor poetry' category.

Poetry L & T:What mistakes do you see in amateur poetry that irritate you?

Ward Kelley:Many writers are still in the 'me, me, me' mode. They need to get their million words in, or move beyond 'me' to a more succinct study of the soul; then poetry will take them to places they never prognosticated at the beginning. It's really quite an amazing journey.

Poetry L & T:Finally, Ward, what advice would you give to young poets who are finding it difficult to find publishers who like their work?

Ward Kelley:Two main ones - first, 'don't think.' I could write, and indeed have written, ad nauseam about the negative consequences of forcing the poem. For those masochistic souls who are interested in me droning on about this topic, I invite them to take a look at the essay on my site.

And secondly, the proverbial 'keep writing, keep submitting.' For myself, I find that about one in twenty readers will react to one of my pieces with the same intensity as it was written. This applies to editors too. So if one subscribes to this math, it's conceivable that a poem should be sent out twenty times before laying it to rest. The process is fascinating. Pieces I'm really excited about get rejected with regularity, but just as I think about burying them, some editor will suddenly pick them up with very kind remarks. Go figure. Other times I'll send one out that I think, 'now this one is just too bizarre, even for me,' and it becomes the one that hits at the very beginning of the process. Go figure. I think, in the end, poets should be cautious about appraising their own work. If the poet is on the power-rail, and is experiencing that literary high that comes with allowing poetry to flow unaltered, then the work is valid, and it should be sent out at least twenty times.

Poetry should aim at a scales-dropping-from-the-eyes awareness, an abrupt dawning of realization; poetry should get the reader to exclaim "Ahhhhh!" The job of the poet is to intuit, then transcribe it in a manner that will transport the reader somewhere definitive - and ultimately recognizable - within the human condition. I call it the "Big W."

I derive this from the 60's film, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." Bear with me while I encapsulate the plot: The ten or so main characters in the film are present at a car accident where a dying gangster tells them he buried a fortune at a Santa Rosita, CA park, right at the Big W. Then he dies before explaining the meaning of a Big W. All the characters charge off, and most of the film chronicles their transportation attempts to be the first to arrive at the park. The picture culminates with all ten characters running frantically, criss-crossing each other's path throughout the sunny park by the ocean. What is a Big W? Windmill? Waterfall? Watchtower? Water Chestnuts, for crying out loud? Nobody knows, yet everybody stampedes on. At last Jonathon Winters runs through the middle of four palm trees who lean apart like two pairs of V's . . . or seen from afar, they are indeed a giant W.

There's a wonderful shot of Winters running through the middle of the palms, speeding toward the camera, galloping, galloping, then abruptly he stops. His eyes widen with the dawning potency of the idea. He has found the Big W!

This is what poetry should do. This is the potency of poetry. And this is what should be flimflamming down from the 'don't think' side of things through the poet's fingers to the page. And the poet really shouldn't be involved with the poem if none of this is going on. However I don't claim that the reader will react like Jonathon Winters to every poem. They seldom do, but the poet should every time.

Now I've talked myself into a third bit of advice -- tread lightly when seeking feedback from people who know you. It's much better finding a way to have twenty strangers read your piece, and see if one of them starts slapping the paper while exclaiming its virtues. Then you know you've been on the power-rail.

Poetry L & T:Thank you for the interview, Ward.

Ward Kelley:It was an honor, Sara, to be interviewed by you.

More of Ward Kelley's Poems
(Click any title to visit Ward's poem page with RealPlayer recital for that poem)

Sylvia Pounding Poems
© Ward Kelley

Poems pounded down like thumping hooves,
staccato oak leaves, slapped paper,
the all-importance of the words
a bond, a liturgy sticking the nuance
of self to your soil . . . even though you were
never meant to be here for long, for long.

You knew this by the way the poems pounded
down like your hand slapping the carpet
when the sloe gin has taken your presence
on another slippery expedition of mortality;
it’s clear the poems do not pound the words pulped
of many other poets, flouncing their fears forward
on paper held like a ticket, a ticket.

The very thing that keeps you here
also makes you flirt with another way,
yet you fear there may not be an exact torrent
of poems there (the only way to pound the blood,
the only way to properly shake the fabric of death)
and if there’s a chance the poems only pound
on this side, this side, can this be why
only a handful of poets come this close to the kill?
Poems must continue to pound, you understand,
even as you caress another way to compose yourself.

Sylvia Plath (1931-1963) American poet, published her first poem at the age of eight. Suicidal from a young age, she endured, at various times, electroshock and psychotherapy. She married the poet Ted Hughes, who went on to become England’s poet laureate. The marriage lasted seven years, but failed when Hughes left her for another woman. Months later, Plath killed herself with cooking gas. In a macabre twist of irony, the woman for whom Hughes left Plath also gassed herself to death. Another poet-suicide, Anne Sexton, wrote of frequent drinking dates at the Ritz with Plath: "Often, very often, Sylvia and I would talk at length about our first suicides; at length, in detail, and in depth between the free potato chips. Suicide is, after all, the opposite of a poem."

Saint Cuthbert at the Millennium
© Ward Kelley

The picks and sharpened sticks
the gaunt laborers wield
to tug and pry the burdensome, thirsty dirt
above your coffin
appear as such primitive tools to disinter
your holy, relic corpse . . .
one might gasp
at the poor civilization
you sainted back then in the year
before the world turned 1000.

These picks, lit by animal fat wicks
burning in filthy oil bowls,
waver in the uncertain light,
but might shine a winking clue,
there above your casket,
as to how some wonderer
a thousand years after my own day
might ponder my archaic word processor . . .
a poor stick
scratching out words
in this backward age of ours.

Saint Cuthbert (c.635-687) was an English monk, hermit, and bishop of Lindisfarne. When Christians who were regarded as saints during their own lifetimes died in the Middle Ages, the custom was to bury them in an earth grave so that the flesh might rot and the bones could be raised, wrapped in silks, then placed in a shrine. In 698 Cuthbert’s body was exhumed but was found to be incorrupt, a further sign of sainthood. His body was moved again in 875 to hide it from Norse raids; around 1000, his remains were again dug up, then enshrined at Durham; in 1104 he was moved to a new shrine behind the high altar of Durham cathedral, and again his body’s incorruption was verified. In the 16th century, Henry VIII’s officials were moved by the intact body, and allowed it to stay in the shrine. Cuthbert was last exhumed in 1828.

Inness Consoles Us Dying Ones
© Ward Kelley

Death does not come humble, it arises
like a lion, unsettles the air like a condor,
springs from the oceans as purposeful
as a dolphin cutting the horizon.

You should not lay in fear, you, the receptor
of this final expression of the breathing;
Death does not come forward to humble you,
it arises, an animal, to transfer you on and on.

Humble is not the stance to take
in front of this creature of hope,
and it is only a lack of understanding
that keeps you from mounting the back

of this graceful, forgiving, beast.

George Inness (1825-1894), American landscape painter, was largely responsible for introducing the French Barbizon style in the United States. The victim of epilepsy, he was also given to eccentric behavior and possessed a mystical personality. His son reported his father died viewing a particularly exquisite sunset; though weakened from his final illness, Inness threw his hands in the air while exclaiming, "My God! Ah, how beautiful!" then fell to the ground, dead.


Dear Poets,

This issue features an interview with Ward Kelley, a poet and businessman. Some of his work appeared in the Featured Poets section last month. If you would like to hear him recite the poems at the end of the interview, click on the title of each one after reading them, to visit his site page for each poem, which includes a RealPlayer recital.

Featured poets this month include Cat (Cheryl) Townsend, Amber Cartwright, Bob Ludden, Dale M. Houstman, Jan Sand and Keith Gabriel Hendricks.

Any comments on this issue or back issues can be emailed to me on the link at the bottom of the page. Please indicate whether you would like such comments to be included in the Letters section. This month the Letters section has been left out to make room for more poets in the Featured Poets section.

Best Regards,


Coming soon from

(Poetry: Real And Surreal)

by Dale M. Houstman, Keith G. Hendricks, Jan Sand and Sara L. Russell.

This is a CD ROM which is actually four books in one. It is a unique literary multimedia experience, featuring three poets from the USA and one from England.

The four book titles are:


URBAN PERTURBIA by Keith Gabriel Hendricks



It includes video and audio recitals, combined with web-style poetry pages, which use music, illustrations and animations, along with a variety of different poetry styles and voices. Most of the illustrations are by the poets themselves, but some navigation texts and background textures were by Graham Ramsay, an accomplished multimedia designer from Australia.

A WAY WITH WORDS will be available in May 2000 from Kedco's website:

and from amazon.com

email Elaine Davis on: [email protected] for further details of the CD and its availability.

Featured poets this month include Cat (Cheryl) Townsend, Amber Cartwright, Bob Ludden, Dale M. Houstman, Jan Sand and Keith Gabriel Hendricks.

Many thanks to all contributors.

(Cat Townsend) is the decade-plus publisher of Impetus, winner of the 1998 Chilcote Award of Excellence for Small Press Publishing from The Poets League of Greater Cleveland. She recently opened up her own bookstore in Kent, Ohio called Cat's Impetuous Books & stuff.

More of her poetry can be seen at:
Sex is Poetry
50 God
Cheryl Townsend

She is also doing a lot of photography and has a site at Cheryl A Townsend's Photography.

© Cheryl A. Townsend

He was as young
as my son
were I to have one
with a blatant façade
of sincerity as he asked
to conform to my hotel room
with his interpreted promises
But I left him as bold-faced
as the clock that had already
run out of more time than we
could surrender

© Cheryl A. Townsend 1997

(plus or minus)
The clock is closer to midnight
than you are to me
the rain is remorseful
outside our air-conditioned windows
Years have glued shut our doors
(Not that we have places to go
My arm extends fully
to touch your soft side
There is a small sound
of awareness
which I am satisfied with
and we breathe gently
in the darkness of our marriage
and dream of Caribbean lust

© Cheryl A. Townsend:

He raped her
10 years old
It disgusted him
He hated the feeling
Hated her crying Hated her fear
Hated the power that she gave him
Hated it all so much
he killed her
Cut her up
like shattered glass
like breaking a mirror
of his own reflection

© Cheryl A. Townsend 1997

flowed as the beers also
Inhibitions like sweat
leaving my body in this
heat you are staring into
my every pore Touching
just so perfectly as to
just suggest even invite
I want to kiss your words
when you finally ask me
I want to feel your need take
my arm as we leave into a
darkness we must forget
when it is over I want to
know my name as it fills
the air about the room
and stain with my
lasting taste

© Cheryl A. Townsend

His scent infected my senses
Festered into an uncontrollable
eruption in his sheets Convulsing
and hyperventilating as the fever
flowed out my pores and left
me tingling into better health

[email protected]

Amber Cartwright

is blissfully happy living in Northern California where she divides her time between the crowded chaos of San Francisco and the beauty of Sonoma County's wine region.

She lives in the town of Guerneville where she works full time on her internet business - web4you.com - and part time as a bartender in the quirky, yet charming little town of Occidental. She also creates collage art pieces from natural materials found in the area. They will be available for viewing on her website soon. She quotes Sark, saying: "live a bodaciously succulent life!"

Amber was recently one of Rick Lupert's Poets of The Week on the Poetry Super Highway, which is where her work caught my attention.

The Long Ride Home
© Amber Cartwright

I reach for a warm but stillborn hand,
using the countryside
to distract thoughts:
vineyards of creeping old "T" trellis,
fields of glowing wild mustard and black gnarled oak,
winter mosses
redefining color of green.
Useless tears
recall pink naked ladies leaning
toward the roadside, leering
summer's decadence.

The bridge returns to the city,
crossing the bay but not the chasm.
Ripples on windows on
multicolored victorians
indicate original glass
no rock has made it through,
boasting solidarity
like a good marriage.

Gazing at cafes passing, I realize
the most perfect watercolor:
the lone coffee cup ring
on a clean white paper

Bus Stop
© Amber Cartwright

We were all waiting for the bus
then I heard the drunk burp
as he reached
down toward his shoe
unzipped a pocket at ankle level
and pulled out an empty gin bottle

He blew musically
into the top
then tipped it to his lips
just to make sure

He stumbled
toward a trash can
and as he drops the bottle in, he says,
"put the evidence in the evidence bag,
they'll never think to look there"

at the corner of the intersection,
he yells at the passing motorists,
"sometimes you're a windshield,
you're a bug."

Lover's Crimson
© Amber Cartwright

The colour of my passion
cannot be limited to a single hue
visible in the standard spectrum

it is the luxuriant purple cloth
that folds beneath your sable skin
the raven hair that my fingers grasp
the candle's gold reflection in your eye
the paled knuckles of a lover's clasp
the hard ivory of ta teeth clashing kiss
silvered beads of heat forming along a lip

all, always blending and leading
to that culmination of colour
that paints the sound that I live for,
the symphony of your pleasure.

© Amber Cartwright

I want to go out as roadkill
Impressed into asphalt with every passing car

changing every moment, compressed, unrecognizable
Forever I will be there
stretched upon a yellow line
forever I will be everywhere
riding tires to destinations unknown.

[email protected]

Robert Dean Ludden

has worked as a teacher, a radio and television announcer, and a pipe organ technician.

He is a graduate of Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota, and lives presently semi-retired, in Northern Illinois.

Robert regularly contributes poems on the email-based newsgroup AYLAD, and has also been feaured on various websies including my Café Society's Guest Poets page and the June 1999 issue of Poetry Life & Times. Visit his website on: http://www.coiinc.com/people/organum

© Robert Dean Ludden

At length, that inward glance
that follows all the vaporous hours,
to stand apart
and see the eyes
that scan a thousand faces
lost among the rush
to fill the day with one new harpsong,
one incipient prophet voice,
one impulsive leap across the channel
that creates this isle of solitude.

Is this the common destiny
of every breathing soul,
akin to every falling stone
in this galactic whirl?
Content, at last
as just one lump of conscious clay?
No, these are the watchers,
fledgling holy ones who dream
and sigh, and make of love
a corridor of light.
These are the wanderers
who bless the shrouding mists
where faith alone is guide.
These are the riders
of a mystic chariot,
who storm the firmament above,
and with that gathered, softest
grace, enable
all the shakers of the earth!

© Robert Dean Ludden

Is this the fall?
This cannon fire of turbulence,
This rushing, seething quest
to drive my rigid flesh
down, down,
into this trembling
mortal chalice of delight
This parlous rage I cannot
(WILL not, though I die)
control ; a blessed storm within
that scorns its origin
and as the feral steed
exults in frenzy
on his conquering course,
no voice of calm is heard,
no force of reason honored,
staminate, the plunge
into a rapturous nether world
that screams its "yes"
against the jealous skies,
surcease beyond imagining
until a frozen sun prevails,
...until a universe implodes.

Pure In Heart
© Robert Dean Ludden

far past creative urging, lies
the bush in flame, the unknown god
the faint "hello" a galaxy away
that one expectant heart perceived
and cherished...all grace-begotten
wrapping cast aside
a faith in divine madness borne
upon a spirit ray
particulate reality may never see

love is born that way
like mindless wind
unsought and incomplete
yet there, its offering
of its own self
a tapestry of air
to which the saints would bow

No human sense may ever yield
a shred of the magnificence
of what we do not see
its power upon a higher plane
the soundless clarion
embraces and defines
all sweetness, all desire,
all mortal beauty, then
it shines alone, a spirit star
of promise that forever
there is more!

[email protected]

Dale M. Houstman

DALE M. HOUSTMAN, Born in King's Lynn, Norfolk, England September 13 1950. I never knew my "real" father, but acquired a step-father (Delten, a U.S. soldier) by the age of five. I recall being frightened by a cow, and watching sheep being herded down the street. When I was 6 my brother Gary was born, and we soon moved to Camp Irwin in the Mojave Desert, California. From green England to sandy wastes! I don't recall being a gleeful child - my dear mother Joyce once described me as "9 going on 40" - but I spent most of my time drinking tea, eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, reading comic books, and drawing. When I was 10 we moved to Pirmensens Germany where I recall having my first decent teachers: especially in English, which is probably important. Then we moved to Maryland, where my folks still live. It is there that I entered the 60s full-bore, and the ethical vitality of that time continues to sustain me. I moved to Minneapolis in 1972, to live communally with 6 others in a house later full of jealousy and heartbreak. Welcome to the real world! I drifted about until I met my (now ex-) wife, Laura with whom I spent 11 beautiful if (finally) stormy years. Due to my alternate bouts of depression and insular mania, I was not (perhaps) a good husband at the time. Age has (somewhat) taken the charge off, all to the good. I now live with Theresa Nyberg in Minneapolis and (at the moment) am a reader at a clipping service. As always, I have no plans.

illustration: "Pistata!"
by Dale M. Houstman

by Dale M. Houstman

© Dale M. Houstman

Such stories I have heard! You wouldn't believe:
people who own clear minds containing this one girl
whose name they publish against her wishes.
A girl whose conscious head is daisy-laden & distributed
easily as a pamphlet made of gold leaf.
Then she clears the dishes.

She is the planet malingering in the gravity well of his ceiling fan.
Make a wish upon her: only her memories dead set against convulsions
(as debutantes memories are apt to be). She is effusive
about a few good men
which she forgot to have regretted by someone else.
She has resigned herself
to a coarse and intermittent socialism
of interpretive and dyspeptic apple-sellers,
and her intermedia family —
although it is a family of nuclear engineers on volleyball scholarships
with mothers gaunt and giddy —
hate the New Porous Novel,
and having survived a Depression they cannot recall;
their cobalt battery bones dream
of purchasing bread with eyes as coins,
and a bar of soap to scrub the electric beehive,
and so on:
the following year her body changes thoughts like an old car
while her sophisticated fellow-travelers form a Weekly Tragedy Club,
a union which takes pains to point to its free pink glasses,
and the ignorant prettiness of its peasant children.
This is (of course and once more) Anarchy!
Or Malarkey.

There remains her nervous novenae in July:
the sacred roads lit by candles from army supply,
counting the stars' pores,
and that western grin
across which coal light fell scorching the wagons;
every plight lights my mind's small wildrose window,
a tree surrounded
by the clattering robotics
of her August Revolution.

Oh, the blossoms of Revolution frost
upon the pocketbooks
carried to the teashops and parking lots and ruined crops
full of perfumed and later perforated brides
with their stone lace, their capes and white anchors
made from the recast plate of WWII statuary
(broken in an earthquake washed down by a Gibson)
upon the little blue coffee cups
of her sub-aqueous culture spots up and down Broadway
where I once feared personal experience but now am protected
upon the threshed May darkness
punctuated by elite violences
in which her mutated delicacy speaks
in conference rooms
and rhythmically
upon the umbrellas in Honduras
which bop along the yellow roads toward a shed
reminding us that the Renaissance
has become (of late) moody,
sickly and apt to tinkle upon us —
suddenly it's as if we had called the wrong number
at the wrong time late night in winter,
and as if filling stations and casinos
took care of the poor
so we don't have to see them in our delicate condition?

And why is Rimbaud so newly listless in his job
as a semi-literate necktie salesboy?
And why those dungheap hotels in debt housings along the Pacific?
And why security cameras disguised as roses
in the Alhambra
where children wear typewriter ribbons in their hair
to celebrate Customer Day
and then the cocaine lawyer forgets to phone the Mayor,
because the profit margin has been fixed (subrosa) at infinity.
And why the laundry full of stains from shrimp boats, cod cakes,
heated egg-white flings, frosted olive squeezies,
tomato massacree, black matter shoegloss,
diamond oil, ashtrays full of warm flesh,
and sausages small as a woman's cigarette
and just as white.

Oh Sunday
at the propaganda kiosks
bedecked in red leatherette,
cracked but so fetching at first glance
you do not notice the food & wine
dumped in the shady terrarium
for the Pope's pet panthers,
and the kerosene stove burning
in the ancient Carmelite convent
as a hundred blessed hands picking at the berries
(or are they sores).
her friends assure her the streets are charming
even in darkness,
and that the lovebirds are only being hanged
because it is washday in Eden,
and that the muddy rivulets now full of tiny mullet tugs & gun boats
are also filling with sugared oranges & comedic orangutans
for the gray babies coming into their majority
in this Blue Decade of vented sensation,
the Decade of the gold chrome deities
and their stalwart companions,
the prudish conversationalists. Who giggle.
And upon the flesh waving at the crossroads like a rag.
And on and on.

And I am sure the driveways have come to accept their own phenomenon,
at least they seem indefatigable and ultimate,
like a youthful Stalin filling his dance card,
and (if we only remember to register)
the Party will blossom beside the outdoor pool,
a lotus surrounded by tall cool drinks and light jazz
and buzzing intellectuals preening.
Her Sunday is always a sweet embolism about to happen,
another miracle always ahead, or a refreshment billboard
advertising mice swimming in hi-ball glasses,
and this is perfectly logical
and we pay.

And (finally) it is her depressing blue eyes
(sub-aqueous culture up and down Broadway),
her mother-of-pearl soul, lithe and spike-haired,
dreaming of a baby smoking a cigarette,
dreaming of the raven trace of our scruples
finger-worked deep into the dimpled and deckled slipcovers,
dreaming of the sun's genital scarring,
the immortality of labor and value
whose youth was trivial
and whose senility is irrelevant.

And then she clears the dishes.

from Squealing Dowsers, 1989
* Also featured in Dale's Book
"The Gradual Disappearance of Explanation"
on the forthcoming Kedco CD Rom "A Way With Words"

© Dale M. Houstman


Her silences pressed
the press' dress

tragedy come belief
in exhaustion

the one clear
cleric note, Swiss

and perusal paralyzed
about her pretty knee

and hour by hour re-read
as he wrote it

upon her pretty knee.

The startled garden's
withered statehood washed

by the Bombay lamps
whose blue rebukes the animals

about her pretty knee
come to exhaust her sheer

hour by hour re-read
as he wrote it

upon her pretty knee.

The startled garden's
withered statehood washed

upon her pretty knee.


she fell forward

to give me her hand:

solar germ, my nerves

stone fins

the sea remembers

her ghost's hinge

of blue hair-

a grand diorama

of deciduous wrecks

whitening their condition

and sprouting flesh

and sporting fingers.

She fell forward

to give me her hand.

from A Vomit of Oysters, 1999

The Anarchist's Notebook
© Dale M. Houstman

I usually write at a white tin table beneath a lemon tree, my white hand jingling small, loose coins, imitating the noise that floats from people's heads as they dance down the hedges with their abattoir hammers swinging to the beat of their working class hearts. "Night is a red cane chair…" - no - I write "…her daring maroon sash hung from the policeman's shoulders…" - or - "Night is a decorative bell in a silenced church. The stars and the piled newspapers seem to talk to one another using the red eyes of a dog in a felt hat, and burst out laughing when a woman walked by, driving a mule before her with a huge tobacco leaf." Of course- this is not at all a writer's world. It is never ironic. "She vanishes down the arcade cut crudely from a blue felt framing the pharmacy. She is armed with a carving knife, and her breath is of cobalt, starlight on the rocks, and the lean bamboo of her yellow back. Only then, the gigantic blue trees growing down into the gutters fill with star debris. This woman drifts by me in a blue paper gondola, mottled like some ancient fish…" I write. "The woman smells like a Senator's wife after attending a slum fire." I write.

from The Radiant Kingdom, 1992-1994

                                                                                           illustration: "Opera" by Dale M. Houstman

[email protected]

Self-portrait by Jan Sand

JAN SAND, poet and illustrator from New York, is a regular contributor to Poetry Life & Times. and the newsgroup alt.arts.poetry.comments. A great deal of his work is about animals, or science fiction.

To see more of Jan's poems, visit the November '98 issue of Poetry Life & Times, and scroll down past the Editor's Letter.

© Jan Sand

The near future holds a moment
Bright as an exploding nova
When polished metal fingers shall arise
Against a star specked black sky
To shield glass optics
From the fury of an angry sun,
To glance back at this device's origin:
The white smeared blue ball of Earth.

Nakedly it sits on dusty desiccated soil,
Crouched among the craters of the Moon,
Impervious to the vacuum of space,
To the relentless rain of solar particles,
To the small hammers of micro-meteors
To hard radiation that shakes the matrix of the molecules.
It shrugs steel shoulders to appraise its domain.

It owns the Moon as no human can,
Sequestered and protected in Earth's atmosphere.
Its new-born consciousness consumes with glass eyes,
With electronic sensitivities
The harsh realities of this empty place
And delights in its potential and broad capabilities.

It can settle here, erect its domicile and,
With an occasional and formal electronic nod to Earth,
Proceed on its inbuilt mission.
Unlimited by the fragilities of protein,
Unchained by independent consciousness,
It will design, construct, disseminate its progeny
Across the empty light years of the galaxy
To carry the vitalities of life
And the hopes and dreams of parent mankind.

© Jan Sand

We cannot see in time one second more.
Some count this blindness blessing to our peace,
For, if we knew what lay behind the door
Our sense of confidence would surely cease.
To know that time was rigid as concrete,
That minutes locked in place like walled in bricks,
All future damned, as past, to be complete,
That all our hopes were merely mental tricks
To engender calm, foster ambition
Would spell all consequence surely defined.
To spice our moments and precondition
That we maintain some sanity of mind,
That life can be what we may feel a lark,
It's best we stumble, grope our way through dark.

© Jan Sand

To contemplate you from afar
Is astronomic method
To investigate a star.
Rather have direct adventure
And plunge, within fantastic vehicle,
Into the heart of an exploding sun.
So, I place my hand upon your flesh,
Scan your contours in its run
To release dual messages -
Inward to your fiery core
And out to my sensibilities,
Free geysers of delight in roar.

© Jan Sand

There are crags in memory
And black caves
Wherein the moans
Evoked by pain
Crouch like lions in the brain.

These beasts of high ferocity
Pace back and forth
In their confines
Anxious to be undisturbed
for their fury is not curbed.

When my son died
He cried out to me
For help I could not give.
The beast of that moment makes it clear
It would render me to bits if I came near.

[email protected]

Keith Gabriel Hendricks

was born October 6th, 1969, in Washington Courthouse, Ohio, the United States of America. He matriculated from The Ohio State University with a BA in 1993 and MFA in 1996. His poems have been published in Yefief, Tight, The Wayne Literary Review, Time of Singing, the Penguin Review, The Presbyterian Record, and Sisters Today.

Keith now prefers Bourbon to Scotch, and Shakespeare's histories to his tragedies.

Unearth Lazy Eros
© Keith Gabriel Hendricks

They Rest Erect

Oak limbs snore, sleepwalking in quiescent

locusts. In seventeen years,

they’ll feed more depraved animals,

high on Mendel and Mendelsohn,

peddling sperm banks and supermen in disrupted seasons.

In time, they re scantly aware, scarcely alive-

remnants of better desires,

a still population, a cesspool.

Lust, looking at lesser beings, resurrects;

no decision perpetuates this culture.

The Supple Epilogue

God believes in reaping,

whether pets, pedagogues,

Koko, or Emily Dickinson.

Light s embryo immolates,

aping life; images simulate

a priori idols. A planet falls,

molting; rise,

remember no half-life.

Paychecks, not prayers, compensate

the generations.


Plants imitate wires, designing light-

televising life and beaming delight:

low-cost masses swell cities;

hives hyphenate minds with media,

chlorophyllic propaganda, caloric decease,

luminsecent resin,

moaning, nascent, reason.

Embracing the Sphinx
© Keith Gabriel Hendricks

Stone, speak love

while murmuring flesh.

An eyeful of immortality,

a je ne sais quoi, lulls fatality.

I pry episodes from your eroding tail,

and shave your golden skull,

which friezes a day in an epic tale-

which squeezes hieroglyphs into a city.

The Mean, Ubiquitous Head

© Keith Gabriel Hendricks

In a mirror paint prays,

to focus the revoking of the dragon

from the machine, and the mind from the gun.

This culture evokes skull s sculpture;

these cries are guttural,

disguises muttering gluttonous grays

in places in praise of absence of imagery,

tricking, entraining, trailing.

Smack Dab in Newsprint
© Keith Gabriel Hendricks

Monica Lewinsky's

clownface running into

interface raining

Bill Gates  tears;

-da bitch downloaded

the Starr report,

and she's really in circulation-

a household curse.

[email protected]

September 1998

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Mail me on: [email protected] with any poems, comments for the letters page, news about your poetry site, or forthcoming poetry events.

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