October 2001Café Society's Poetry News Update
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An interview with  LIAM GUILAR

Liam Guilar started writing poetry with a blunt pencil when he discovered that cat and mat rhymed. Somehow this is far more memorable than much else that happened at primary school. Thirty years later his first book of poetry, "The Poet's Confession" was published in Canberra by Ginninderrra press. He never bothered trying to get the poems published before that. He just assumed no one wanted to read them. Since then his poems have appeared in various places, though he is proudest of its selection for a book of world music, edited by Allan Allexander. (Apart from his excessive love of books my other main interest is acoustic music.)

Inspired by a childhood reading of Rider Haggard's She, he's traveled to places too obscure to make the Lonely Planet Travel Guides. (Coventry, Halesowen…) He is the only lute playing, kayaking medievalist known to have been "smuggled" across the Kazak border in an apple truck and "arrested and deported" from Samarkand. The story is on the Idaho State University Website: http://www.isu.edu/outdoor/dwbstart.htm

Born in Coventry, England, Liam studied Medieval Literature and History at Birmingham University, and moved to Australia in 1986. He has a Masters Degree in Medieval Literature from the University of Queensland, and currently lives on the Gold Coast, where a version of himself is Head of English at a private girls school, a fact he often finds incomprehensible.

Poetry L & T:When and where did you first start writing poetry, Liam?

Liam: It was never voluntary. I never had a choice. Oh that's not quite true. I did go through a phase as an adolescent writing poems to try and encourage my girl friend to take her clothes off. I failed miserably. So I laboriously typed the poems out on my Grandfather's manual typewriter and sent them to prestigious poetry journals. I dunno if the editors kept their clothes on but they never kept my poems. Anyway, I don't know when I realised that language is the greatest Lego set you'll ever have. I can remember writing with a thick black pencil in primary school and watching the words rhyme and knowing this was magic.

Poetry seems to involve a way of seeing, as much as saying. I can remember the first time I understood that. I was walking in a thick fog, I would have been about fourteen and it was late autumn, the trees in the park had just been pruned, and the combination of hampered streetlight and fog made the trees into stubby hands. They were clawing at the fog, trying to tear free. It wasn't a conscious act of image making, just a way of seeing.

I think I was lucky. I grew up in a culture where words were important but expected to get on with their own work. I'm the only member of my family so far who went beyond compulsory schooling. So my family were enthusiastic readers who had never been taught "how to read" or what to read. Both my parent's families came from rural backgrounds and there was still the assumption that experience was shaped and ordered into story to be shared. Telling a good story was an art. There was also the spoken liturgy of the catholic mass. I went every Sunday til I was sixteen, and I was swept along by the rhythm and the beauty of phrases like "The bread and wine offered by your priest melchisedech" The idea of ordering thought in rhythmic utterance, was reinforced by the way the years moved to the rhythm of readings from the King James Bible. We were expected to learn hymns, prayers and carols off by heart. (even when I had no idea what they meant. It took me years to learn that in "to certain poor shepherds' the "to certain' was not a verb. I still like the idea of angels being able to certain people.) The playground culture at school was the same, I remember when there were skipping rhymes (I can remember the skipping rhymes): the way the chaos of the school yard could be ordered with rhyme. And the girls knew the words, that made it doubly mysterious.

I'm still praying; poetry is still prayer, even if it is selfish, secular, carnal. But essential. The other major influence was Coventry city library. (Don't laugh). The old one was by the ruins of the old cathedral. To reach the poetry section you turned away from the main entrance and went up a spiral stone stair that was reminiscent of Guys' tower in Warwick castle. It led to a long balcony flanked by books. You could look down o the rest of the library. At the far end was a little alcove with a chair and that's where the poetry books were kept. It was a place of mystery and magic and possibility.

Poetry L & T:who are your favourite well-known poets?

Liam:Oh, unfair question. I read one of your interviews where you asked which book the interviewee would most like to own and I thought, please God don't let her ask me that one, I can't answer it. This one is equally impossible I read... urm... voraciously? Non-stop. You know when Henry the Eighth died he owned twenty-six lutes and had 329 books in the great library at Winchester. He wins on Lutes wives and reformations but suck eggs Henry, I win on books. From all that reading and book collecting I've created a personal poetry anthology in my head that would make any critic or academic throw up in despair at the total lack of "taste" involved.

I think of poetry as a landscape, its four thousand years old that we know of, and global in width. I love the freedom to wander. There are people who seem to have mapped that landscape in ways that interest me so I think of reading as travel and poets as travelling companions. I used to worry about this and then I read Nadezhda Mandelstam's description of how Osip thought of dead poets as good friends and reading as a conversation with them. And I demand the right to wander without responsibility. I have no interest in academic fashions or schools of poetry. I am too arrogant to be told what to read or what to think. Which means that if I say Shakespeare wrote lines I would love to have written, I reserve the right to laugh at some of the awful ones he wrote. Or that I wish I'd written Keat's "La Belle dame" or "the Eve of Saint Agnes", and I reread his letters repeatedly, but there is so much he wrote that I would be embarrassed to write. Yeats at his lyrical best is bewilderingly beautiful. John Agard is priceless, as is Grace Nichols. Anon and "Oral trad' are my heroes. The three "Thomases" (Dylan, Edward and R.S.), Byron (it's true, I have read Don Juan from start to finish), Tennyson's Ulysses has long been a favourite, (as it has to be with every aging traveler). At the moment I'm reading Lorca (in translation) and Dorothy Porter and loving them. We've just come out of teaching a unit on poetry in translation, so my head is full of Russian and Asian poets I admire (the list would be huge). Horrible question. My favourite writer of words is Leonard Cohen, as songwriter though. He describes an emotional landscape I can recognise. When he's gone I wonder who'll write love songs I can understand.

Poetry L & T: Your biography mentions that you play the lute. Does your musical experience ever tempt you to stay from free verse into rhyme and metre, to some of your poems into songs?

Liam:This is funny.. I have a file of rhyming poems I have written which just sits in the computer. I think rhyme and metre are vastly underrated Two reasons I don't write songs: I can't write tunes and know it, and there is no need. The songs I'd like to sing exist; the poems I need to write don't. Though having said that "Lucy" is a song (or at least a chord sequence) My earliest influences as writers of poetry were Rudyard Kipling and Robert Service. I still like both of them. (Shock, gasp) I can still recite The Shooting of Dan McGrew …One of my grandfathers did the Sussex dialect recordings for the BBC, and I can still hear his voice reciting Kipling's "Three part song." (Still one of my favourite poems). It wasn't until I heard Allan Ginsberg reading Yevtushenko's "yes and no" on a crackling record I borrowed from Coventry record library (I'm doing a plug here for the Coventry library service during the sixties and seventies, God Love em, thanks guys, it's all your fault…) that I realised poetry could be powerful and not rhyme. I write in rhyme and metre often, it's a discipline and it's fun. I can do silly in rhyme effortlessly, but being serious is hard. Pete Seger, writing about Woody Guthrie, said "any damn fool can be complicated and hide behind it, it takes genius to achieve simplicity and say something worth while". Brodsky said the same thing about Akhmatova. In a four line rhyming quatrain there ain't nowhere to hide.

Traditional Ballad

Gentle as starlight,
Clean as the moon
You're as soft as the sound of its rise
And your smile is that radiant
The night stops to bathe
In the light that shines from your eyes.

Your clothes lie around you
The light loves your skin
The breeze rustles, jealously by
Trees tremble in awe
As I willingly drown
In the light that shines from your eyes.

I played guitar for years. Urm, twenty-five years. One of the reasons I drifted away from poetry was that I fell into folk music, into singing old songs and songs written directly in that tradition. If my poems didn't work as seduction, singing did…There is a direct beauty in the simplicity of folk songs, I don't mean the crappy stuff that gets into school song books. I mean the old things that get passed on, that turn up on obscure records. And the purity of some of the writers working directly in that tradition, like Eric Bogle or Ewan Mcoll, the kind of things Christy Moore sings. You find the same directness in very old lyric poetry and in collections like the Chinese "book of songs" and "Classical Indian love poetry". I was lucky, I worked as an assistant youth hostel warden with Mick Freemantle, he had boxes and boxes of traditional song lyrics he'd copied out over the years and a repertoire of songs that was dazzling:

Harry's Song
(For Mick and Sandra)
(To the tune: The Nightingale)

(Fowey is pronounced Foy and "a boat on the pill" is not some strange form of maritime contraception but a boat on a small tidal creek. To sing this you'd have to repeat the last line of each verse.)

If my memory won't fail
I'll sing you the tale
Of a place that I knew as boy
There's an old stone walled pub
called the Fisherman's Arms
On the banks of the beautiful Fowey.

Come Friday night,
If the feeling was right,
We'd pick up the pay and guitars
And we'd stride down the hill
Past the boats on the pill
And stroll up the road to the bar.

On a cold winter's night
A warm fire'd be alight
There'd be euchure and fishermen's tales
And the boats on the wall
All sailed in the last war
As did Harry, who's serving the ale

While Mick fights for the bar
I tune his guitar
And with whiskey and beer we're away
But the rowing club boys
Damn, they make so much noise
That I can't hear I note that I play

When everyone's gone
We'll sing one last song
Then there's a slow stagger back up the hill
There's an owl in a tree
And he's laughing at me
In the moon's silver light on the pill

It's a magical thing
But this song that I sing
Takes me back to when I was a boy
To an old stone walled pub
called the fisherman's arms
On the banks of the beautiful Fowey.

Poetry L & T: Your biography also casually mentions that you were smuggled across the Kazak border in an apple cart, later to be 'arrested and deported'! I'd love to know a little more about that, and whether that event ahs found its way into any of your poems.

Liam:Ah, this is the story I use when I wish to appear windswept and interesting. "English teacher" just doesn't make it in the W&I stakes. The complete tale is on the dancing with the bear web site. I've been travelling to kayak for years. In 1993 I organised a kayaking expedition to Uzbekistan and Kirgizstan. We traveled from Moscow with a magnificent group of Russians. They were the best of travelling companions. I knew that if the world blew up in our faces they would simply light a cigarette, then stick the planet back together with duct tape and perseverance. Their attitude to rules was… very interesting. The visa situation was unclear, so after several days on a train my guide book said was closed to foreigners, we pretended to be mute Esthonians on holidays and they tried to "smuggle " us over the border. It was either very inept or an elaborate game but we didn't know that. In Samarkand, the police found we had no visas and told us to get lost. That was ok as we were leaving anyway. Does it come into the poetry? You have the ones from two of the three Indonesian expeditions. Cherry Garrard said that "exploration is the physical expression of intellectual curiosity" (or words to that effect). Curiosity is about moving through unfamiliar landscapes whether they are internal or external. The whole Russian thing yes, I wrote it like a travel poem. It is as yet unpublished. The experience of transgressing boundaries and of moving beyond familiarity:

When I kissed your mouth
I saw blue domes in Samarkand
Beneath a desert sky

When you undressed
Wild mountain rivers
Plunging though deep valleys
Towards the pine fringed lake

When you lay down
Tall trees reflecting fire glow
Peace, vodka, stars
And coming

Poetry L & T: How did you become interested in Medieval literature?

Liam:I'm a very unsentimental medievalist. I don't romanticise the period, and I don't patronise the people in it. As academic discipline it has its own severe beauty. It also used to attract some wonderful people. The people who taught me loved their subject. I have no time for the trappings of new age Celtic mysticism or any of the really stupid books that claim that the grail has been found or the real king Arthur is now revealed. Having said that, I have lived these stories all my life. The first book I remember owning was "heroes myths and legends of the British Isles". As a small fat boy I stood with Cuchulain at the ford, defending Ulster, I rode with Gareth into the spring forest, and went with Bran to reclaim Branwen and the cauldron of rebirth. It was my imaginative landscape, and when I was older, I used to walk to school and I'd be on the Tain or fighting beside Finn. I remember girls from the Dancing Academy pointing at me and saying "he's talking to himself", but I wasn't. I was planning the Fianna's next move with Finn over the salmon of knowledge. I left school with no idea of what I wanted to do. Well, that's not true, I knew I had to write and travel but that wasn't going to pay any bills. I was one of those boring straight A students everyone thought should go to university but I didn't want to study modern literature. I couldn't see the point of it. A Level English had left a bad taste in my mouth. So I worked in a working men's club pulling pints and listening to people talking about snooker. I used to lurk in coffee shops and book shops hoping to meet immoral and beautiful women, instead I found a copy of the Winchester Malory. It was like coming home. I found a course at Birmingham and I had three great years there, wallowing in medieval literature and history, learning to kayak and haunting the dustier library stacks. I even learnt Old Welsh. Old stories work on primitive levels that short cut logic and suggest whatever it is that the story signifies under the surface. They work like tarot cards, suggesting depth and connections. Greek myth has always left me dead, but the old Celtic/English ones make perfect sense "on the pulses". I never had a problem with the weirdness of things like the Mabinogion.

Poetry L & T:Do you find older forms of the English language more musical to the ear?

Liam: That's an interesting question. Well, Old and Middle English and Welsh, they all rock as they say. Most of it was at some stage oral so there is a conscious musical quality to it There is a much greater concern with sound, on a technical level.. Digression: I got roped into writing some words for a piece of music about Saint Hilda. (She's the titular saint of my school) I finished it with the first four lines of Caedmon's hymn. There was recitation and Beautiful music, then a silence and I had to speak four lines of Old English. And coming out the speakers it did sound like singing.

But no, is the answer to that question. I like the poetry of all voices. I am a lover of radio and songs. I like accents and enjoy listening to people talk. I heard Archbishop Holloway talking recently and there's a man with The Voice. I've only recently made the logical connection: I've been listening to poetry, indiscriminately plundering the library for tapes.

Poetry L & T:Have you found that certain special people in your life have inspired your best work?

Liam: Define best work he asked, laughing. I enjoy those stories some writers tell about their granny or their English teacher who used to encourage their writing talent. I wish I had one like that but I wasn't into letting anyone know I was writing anything so they can't be blamed for not supporting me and as for my senior English teacher…well. .I'll bail out of that one.

I went through a phase where I realised that a lot of people who were important to me were dead and they demanded at least the attempt at a poem. But I think if you look for neat links you'd be disappointed. The interaction is between ideas and experience. A really blunt answer would be to say that all I can write is what I know and each person gets absorbed into the story that I make of my own existence. But the people I read are in my life just as the people I meet at work or on the river. So, for an example, Barry Lopez has probably shaped my attitude even though I've never met the man. I stumbled across Allan Alexander's web site in search of some lute music and read his "secrets of music" which seem to me very true and apply to writing poetry. He cleared my head at a time it really did need clearing. The ongoing conversation we have is important to me. (Apart from the fact he publishes my poems in his music books). He recently sent me some music and asked for a story to go with it, so that's the best prose writing I've done.

I'm lucky to work with some very creative people as well. Alana's picture "Hylo" (Poetry l&t September) "did me 'ead in". She's an awesome lady and knows things that I don't which I want to learn.

Poetry L & T:I have enjoyed your work in comrades, as well as in our September issue of poetry life and times. Do you find your poetic inspiration comes out of the blue, or does it stem form numerous revisions of ideas?

Liam: Thank you. It's the unanswerable question: where do ideas come from? But Yes, One of the great features about internet publishing is that you get reactions. (SO if you're reading this and want to write do so) Urm. No. I believe in the well-made poem (even If I can't write one…) poetry is like roses. You may get the odd one flowering in the wilderness by chance but most of the time its hard work. I'm not a fan of the spontaneous utterance. Usually there's a phrase bouncing round my head, or an image, a response to something or someone. And it demands attention. It goes down on paper first, I can't draft on the computer. Then I carry it round in my head. What I then type out is usually very different to the original. And then I pick and pick and pick.

Here's the opening 6 lines of Lute recitals as they'll appear in Southerly:

Lute Recitals.
(For Allan Alexander, in praise of Castles in the Sky)

Here's Dowland, drunk, performing for the King.
His Majesty is fondling his Queen and dogs
wondering if a war is in the stars.
The Crown Prince, spewing in an ornate bowl,
calls out "More beer, bring me more beer!"
The music muscles up; it's rude, alive and wild.

Here's the original (complete with spelling mistakes):

They made the music wear a suit
They studied all the things that it should know
Polished it and taught it to behave
it tip toes politely round the room
like a parody of a ballerina
How stale and lifeless
Don't cough yu'll miss the subtle hemiola
They clap and say bravoh, encore
It's french y'know, though why they don't say great or more
Is too much for my head

No poem is ever finished, its merely abandoned. I f you were to buy a copy of the chapbook, The Poet's confession available from http://www.ginninderrapress.com.au and compare the poems in there with the versions of some of them that are here, then you'd notice a difference.

Poetry L & T:IWhich are your favourite subjects to write about?

Liam:One thing you can learn from medieval literature is that everything can be a subject for poetry. Chaucer could do esoteric, lyrical, comical, philosophic and down right obscene. I like that kind of generosity. I don't like poetry that can't fart. I don't have a favourite subject. There are subjects I can't write about or won't. I live by the ocean and watching five metre surf hitting the beach is something I will not try to describe. For someone who has spent two thirds of his life travelling on rivers or planning to travel on rivers, they don't appear that often. It's too hard to make it sensible to anyone else. I don't think many people since Donne has done a good carnal love poem. I keep trying but it never works (Cf "our hero tries to write his great erotic poem") I have ongoing preoccupations. Landscapes, inner and outer, the problems of naming. Stories. People I've met, things I've done, books I'm reading. Memory/identity? Lopez is right when he talks about the inescapable link between the inner and external landscapes. Mine is always west midland, and coastal. (That's an odd combination I know but there you go). So those kind of images crop up. I like the cross over from poetry to prose to music to art. And I'd dearly love to write a poem about Coventry Libraries but I can't (More laughter)

Poetry L & T:Do you feel that there is a renewed interest in poetry these days or do you think that poetry is mainly read by poets?

Liam:We've just come out of a unit on poetry in translation. At the beginning, I was telling the class about being in Moscow and watching people putting flowers at the feet of Pushkin's statue and how Yevtushenko could get an audience of thirty thousand people in a football stadium. Then I asked them to name a living poet. They couldn't. When was the last time you saw a new poetry book reviewed in a popular paper? I think the question needs two answers.

1) It should have a place in modern society. As humans we live in language, we are constructed through language, and we need to cherish a tradition that values words. We live in an age, in the English speaking world, which does not do that. If you want to disagree turn on your TV or radio and listen to the way the language has gone flabby with lack of exercise. On the news, nouns can't appear without the support of adjectives. I know the argument that popular music has become the refuge for poetry but if you look at the banality of most lyrics that idea doesn't hold up. We need a tradition that values the possibility of words. Because saying is seeing, the inability to speak with clarity is crippling. Poetry can provide new ways of saying and seeing, it can expand the way we think and feel. That's why it's important.

2) Does it do that? No. It's a minority activity. There's no money to be made from it and in a market driven culture it therefore doesn't get the attention it deserves. Part of that is the result of historical process, it went hermetic after it was conscripted into the academy. Look at the way it gets treated in schools. Even when its not being used as part of the teacher/student power play, it tends to get cross word puzzled. The poems that get taught are the ones teachers have something to say about. It's very difficult to say anything meaningful about urm, Byron's "We'll go no more a roving' or Cohen's "For Anne". You just stand in front of them in awe and move on. You can't do that in a classroom. So Kids learn that poetry "is difficult" and poets learn that if they want their poems to get used by English teachers and university professors they've got to give them something to explicate. On the other hand there's an awful lot of crap that gets passed off as poetry and turns up in school text books. So it works both ways. Its either far too difficult or looks like dross. The middle ground is hard to claim.

Poetry L & T:Is there anything you see in amateur poetry (on the internet) which irritates you?

Liam:Really bad poetry that gets published by unscrupulous web sites. (This is why I asked you if you rejected poems). I've had the sad experience of students rushing up to show me letters praising their unique artistry and vision, they've been selected by the publication as semi finalists and I've had to tell them that everyone gets that letter no matter how awful the poems. It's not the amateur poetry that worries me, (Is there professional poetry?) people are wise to bad writing, it's the way young people and silly people can be exploited that annoys me.

Poetry L & T:Finally, if a younger poet came to you saying that someone had told them their poems were terrible, what general advice would you give to help them improve their work, in the long term?

Liam:I'd say they have to understand the basic problem with Poetry: it's best defined by Jeanette Winterson. If you're in love and you're a painter or a musician, you have to use your art to shape the emotion. If you're a poet you can be tricked into thinking "I love you" is a poem. It may be the most beautiful thing a stranger ever says to you, but it ain't poetry. Just cos you throw words down on the page and the lines are short doesn't mean you've got poetry. Poetry is discipline, and if you want to write well then you have to learn the discipline.

I think it's Heaney who describes it as putting the bucket down the well. Bringing up water is craft, using the water is technique. You can learn technique, craft is a bit different. So, I think you have to learn to listen for your own voice, and I guess you've got to have something to say that is interesting to everyone else.

If you want some "rules" :
First rule: If you don't practise you can't perform. This is true for every art from kayaking to playing music to writing. Don't wait for an invitation, or inspiration, don't be on of those "I'm gonna be " writers. Write lots, keep everything but file some stuff as "not right". You can write a hundred poems and find one worth holding on to. Keep drafts.
Second rule; read. You are the growing point of a four thousand-year-old tradition, so you really need to look over your shoulder. If you're serious about poetry you have a responsibility to the tradition. You can mock it or reject it, but you have to acknowledge its presence. It is ludicrous to believe that you can write in ignorance of it. There's too many people who want to sneer at dead writers. Leave that to the academics. If you only own one book, get a copy of World Poetry by Washburn and Major. (No, I don't get a fee from them) 1300 pages, four thousand years of poetry on a global perspective. Wander. Follow your nose. Find what pushes your own buttons and then ask 'why'?

Play technical games. This is practice without responsibility. Try writing like someone else. Try writing like someone else in someone else style (Kipling doing Lorca is my favorite at the moment). Try writing in very specific forms to develop muscle. Listen to poetry as well as reading it, and the best thing you can do for yourself, is record your own poems and listen to them. Finally, don't be afraid to show other people what you write. You probably need a critical friend to begin with so you get some gentle feedback. (I think good criticism is the one that echoes your own intuition, but finding the right person is hard work). But then expand the circle. Don't be put off by rejection slips. Be your own most severe critic and learn to be critical of what other people say.

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

CLICK HERE to read poetry by
Liam Guilar


Dear Poets,

This issue features an interview with Liam Guilar, poet, traveller and lute player. He was recently featured in Comrades, which is what brought his work to my attention.

Featured Poets this month include Barbara Crooker, Duane Locke, J. P. Dancing Bear, Ric Masten, Paul Gilbert and Jan Sand. Some have commented on the tragic events of September 11th, as part of their selection of work. My own page on this subject is on this link.

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 the comments to go into the Letters section. Announcements are always welcome, you can also promote poetry books here.

Poetry submissions should be in plain text in the body of an email, with a small jpeg author picture attached, also a bio, with the URLs of any ezines mentioned, so that they can be shown as links. This increases the chance of inclusion, especially for late submissions. Pictures are best at a maximum of 520 pixels across, otherwise they take ages to arrive by email, especially in bitmap or TIFF format. Further submission guidelines are available on request.

Best Regards,


Click title below for this month's Vallance Review feature

Richard Vallance reviews sonnets, both classic and modern.

Featured poets this month are Barbara Crooker, Duane Locke, J. P. Dancing Bear, Ric Masten, Paul Gilbert and Jan Sand


The author of more that 600 poems published in over 70 anthologies and prestigious magazines, Barbara Crooker's work has made her one of Pennsylvania's favorite poets.

She is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, including three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, five residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and a prize from the NEA.

A three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, she was nominated for the 1997 Grammy Awards for her part in the audio version of the popular anthology, Grow Old Along With Me--The Best is Yet to Be (Papier Mache Press).
See also publisher's websites for more on Barbara:
Miller's Pond and H&H Press

© Barbara Crooker

And now the lawn greens up by inches,
though the weather's changeable as a teenager
dressing for school. If I could call you,
I'd say that daffodils are blooming by the forsythia,
a thicket of sparks, that the world has turned green
and gold. Three years ago when we heard the diagnosis,
I knew what metastatic meant, that we would not grow old
together. The woods are still brown and bare, the Little
Jordan running cold and clear, and colt's foot, the first
flowers, rise up through the oak leaves, bright burning suns.
After you died, I wanted the seasons to halt dead in their
tracks, the stars to stop their whirling pinwheels.
Beside the house in the sweet woodruff, anemones
are opening, delicate shells of blue, pink, and white.
We planted them in my garden and yours when you still
lived here. They have spread, filled in all the bare spots.
I could tell you that my peas have already sprouted.
And now spring drags itself in, reluctantly, inevitably,
on the song of tiny peepers and white-throated sparrows.
Soon the long shadows of August will fall across the lawn,
and the neighbors will drink peach daiquiris on our porch,
a distillate of sun. And the rest of our lives will go on,
brightly colored balls of yarn, unwinding, without you.

from THE WHITE POEMS, just released by Barnwood Press

© Barbara Crooker

The first heavy snowfall in years,
and we give up on shoveling
as the flakes pour down,
fistfuls of flour
flung by an over-generous cook.
Glove in mitten,
we go off walking
down the unplowed street,
nine o'clock at night,
no moon or streetlights
here in the country,
the thick sky hanging down
like cotton batting,
but bright enough to see by,
the whiteness lighting our way.
Up in the orchard,
branches are blooming
with snow flowers,
behind us, our steps
are covered over,
we leave no tracks.
I want to be able
to love you again,
past the tiredness of daily life,
want to love you clean and cold
as this snowstorm,
erasing the past,
letting everything start all over.
Here, new black macadam spreads
from under the snowplow's wing,
there's a clean linen tablecloth
laid on the lawn,
why, even the angels are cleaning
their attics: torn valentines,
lacy scraps of old love letters
flutter down from the sky,
kiss your face, my hair, wool jackets,
down vests, everything white,
no telling where my breath cloud stops,
where yours begins.

© Barbara Crooker

The echo of the mockingbird resounds in our chimney
as he practices his warm-up scales--
a few high trills, a couple of cat calls, then
into his repertoire of cardinal, oriole, thrush,
repeated motifs, his own theme & variations.
Sound fills the yard, swirls into the trumpets of the lilies.
And my son David sings his own song:
snips of commercials, fragments of Sesame Street,
finger plays from school--echolalia, the speech
therapists call it, this repetition of what's heard,
sounds rebounding inside his head.
Last week in the supermarket,
he recited a month old dialogue
between a friend and their teacher,
like an old television show that has
bounced into space, or a late night
radio band from Kentucky, loud and clear.
In my ears, these snatches of both their melodies
reverberate, resound. And all I can do
is write it down, write it down.

© Barbara Crooker

for David, age 4, who has autism.
In The Snow Queen, by Hans
Christian Andersen, Kay, who has
a splinter of glass from a
hobgoblin's shivered mirror in
his eye and heart, must solve a
puzzle in order to win his freedom.

My son David is working his puzzles,
not wooden templates where the pieces
click neatly in their slots,
but ones of his own devising,
shapes moved to fit some other pattern.
If even a millimeter of space is off,
he throws the blocks from the table.
And Kay, in the Snow Queen's crystal palace,
works his pieces, trying to solve
the ice puzzles of reason,
must make the letters spell ETERNITY
to gain his freedom and a new pair of silver skates.
He doesn't succeed. But he goes on
and on, matching the borders
with his sharp flat pieces of ice,
fitting curve to curve,
straight line to straight line.
A silver splinter of ice
has lodged in his heart;
his blue fingers keep working the puzzle.
Soon, Gerda is coming, lips red as summer's roses.
She will thaw his hands; her tears will wash
the splinter out.

But David still sits here, working his blocks.
His eyes glaze over, his gaze is far away.
An invisible icy membrane
is cast over him like a caul.
Nothing in the world can touch his heart.
And love's first kiss won't break this spell.

*These last 3 poems are from ORDINARY LIFE, released in June by ByLine Press


Biographical Note: Duane Locke, Doctor of Philosophy in English Renaissance literature, Professor Emeritus of the Humanities, was Poet in Residence at the University of Tampa for over 20 years. Has had over 2,000 of his own poems published in over 500 print magazines such as American Poetry Review, Nation, Literary Quarterly, Black Moon, and Bitter Oleander. Is author of 14 print books of poems, the latest is WATCHING WISTERIA ( to order write Vida Publishing, P.O. Box 12665, Lake, Park, FL. 33405-0665, or Amazon or Barnes and Noble). Since September 1999, he became a cyber poet and started submitting on-line, and since September 1999 he has added to his over 2,000 print acceptances with 1,561 acceptances by e zines.

He is also a painter. Now has exhibitions at Thomas Center Galleries (Gainesville, FL) and Tyson Trading Company (Micanopy, FL) Recently a one-man show at Pyramid Galleries (Tampa, FL)

Also, a photographer, has had 116 of his photos selected for appearance on e zines. He photographs trash in alleys. Moves in close to find beauty in what people have thrown away.

He now lives alone in a two-story decaying house in the sunny Tampa slums. He lives isolated and estranged as an alien, not understanding the customs, the costumes, the language (some form of postmodern English) of his neighbors. The egregious ugliness of his neighborhood has recently been mitigated by the esthetic efforts of the police force who put bright orange and yellow posters on the posts to advertise the location is a shopping mall for drugs. His alley is the dumping ground for stolen cars. One advantage of living in this neighborhood, if your car is stolen, you can step out in the back and pick it up. Also, the burglars are afraid to come in on account of the muggers.

His recreational activities are drinking wine, listening to old operas, and reading Postmodern philosophy.]

© Duane Locke

I dreamed as one of the dead
I was allowed to make my one visit
Back to the earth, as a criminal
Is allowed to make his one telephone call.
My still rational mind under sleep
Knew it was all false,
For the dead are not allowed anything
Except to decay and be forgot.
But anxious to leave for a day
This presence of nothingness,
A kind of satori without breath,
I requested my one visit.
I went to an auction
To see all the things I cherished while alive
Auctioned off.
The auctioneer auctioneered in auctioneer speech.
The auctioneer auctioned off my beloved items,
Item after item,
But there was not even one bid.

© Duane Locke

I met this old man who had the bitterness of silver.
He said that he had voted for William Jennings Byran.
The old man was senile,
Talked like an Andre Breton poem, or a postmodern text.
He said he was sad because he was born too long ago
To reap the benefits of modern vulgarity;
Said ours was a wonderful time to live in,
For talent was not required for achievement,
Only shallowness, ignorance, and obscenity.
He was as bitter as silver.
I asked him how old he was.
He lied, reduced his age,
For he knew how the aged are hated,
Misunderstood, or overlooked in our time.
He said he was ninety seven.

© Duane Locke

We wait here, close,
Waiting for the present
To leave the bedroom.
We invoke history, research,
Priests, advertisements
To replace the music
Of our nearness.
As the poet said,
"Man cannot stand
too much reality."
I really think the poet
Meant something different
Than what I'm thinking,
But it does not matter,
For everything is misread.
Since it is impossible
In our social climate
To live by the truth,
Let us invoke
All the forgeries
We have been taught
By the schools, the streets
So we can turn
Our night into pretense.
I've wondered
What it would
Have been like,
If we had listened
To the true music.

© Duane Locke

I think of all the ways
One can write to attract an audience.
One can write about what naturally elicits emotions,
Except from the mentally sick,
A lost dog in a forest looking for his home,
A foal standing by his dead mother
As it is beginning to storm;
But I want to write about what elicits emotions from the few;
But could elicit emotions from the many,
If the many were alive.
I want to write about how
The weed that grew in the crack in a sidewalk
Was crushed by a jogger's shoe.
I want to write about how the limbs of an oak were sawed off
To built a house for the already dead.

© Duane Locke

The morning is a grackle,
Thus the harsh sounds
And dark coloring
Make it more acceptable
Than when the sky
Is a pure blue and sure
Of itself. I feel like
I might go outside
Early this morning
Before the sky
Loses its doubts,
Returns to its blue illusions.
I want to feel
The dark realities
Of such a day
Put their arms
Around me.
It is better than
Being caressed
According to custom
By what does not exist.
I will walk to river,
The darkness
Will not let me see
The apparitions
Recently built on its banks.

[email protected]


J. P. Dancing Bear is editor-in-chief of Disquieting Muses, the host of "Out of Our Minds" a weekly poetry program on public radio station KKUP, and the owner of Dream Horse Press.

Bear's poems have been published in hundreds of journals including Clackamas Literary Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Clay Palm Review, The New York Quarterly, Slipstream and the Rattle.

Disquieting Muses

Host of FM91.5, KKUP's "Out of Our Minds"

Home Page: http://value.net/~dbear

Attempting Ignorance
© J. P. Dancing Bear

Billy heard them
while the window was open
letting in the neighbor's love-making.
When alone and loveless
these sounds permeated his room.
He closed the window, but knew
they're still at it; listened for it.
He stared at objects on the dresser
till each was reminder of someone
else's sex and his dearth of it.
Attempting ignorance,

even when he is with a woman
filling the room with moans, he looks
to the dresser, something to remind him
of that loneliness.

© J. P. Dancing Bear

Billy remembers
the Hopi believe in the end of the world;

within his body
this world catches flame.
A picture of his father with guitar
one of his mother --
the only things he carries
besides the necessity of
clothes a sleeping bag
and a pack.

Walks out of the city
with a new image of himself;
a new hunger.

He is a denim jacket,
a thumb pointing at the sun rise,
black hair lifting in a desert wind.

New York Movie
(after Hopper)
© J. P. Dancing Bear

She stands next to curtains
the color of a slap
touches her cheek, replaying
the words: his and hers.
What if her tone had been warm,
perhaps a better choice of word.

Shes seen this movie too many times,
can repeat whole passages of dialog,
twice this week she dreamt it was her
speaking as the heroine does
four shows a night.

She thinks of her mother, back bent
from a solid life of farm work.
Three years since she eloped;
disappeared from the rural landscapes
to live with her husband in the city.
They would have disapproved of him--
skin dark as a movie theater.

He wrote such wondrous love songs,
each with her name in the title.
Now, their separation stains her.
Sometimes she works out the time
difference, makes a call home,
waits to hear a familiar voice
before returning the phone to its cradle.

The two lovers on the screen
have had their fight.
They kiss and stare
into each other the way
only good actors can.
It is their last night--
tomorrow's a new movie.

© J. P. Dancing Bear

I say, Hey look over there,
that's the other way 'round:
that woman's got the palm
pilot, a cell phone, electronic
toys and he's sitting there
patient as summer. My girl
friend says, You've got it wrong,
twirling a lock of her brilliant
red hair smiling at me, I've seen it
many times before shes tired
of his passiveness. He doesn't make
many decisions; probably timid
sexually. She's waiting for someone
stimulating to challenge her.
My lover looks deep at me and
I think of her salty gospel
rising to the cathedral roof
of my bedroom last night.
I look over at the other couple;
the poor bastard has no idea.

Doing the Numbers
© J. P. Dancing Bear

In this room,
dark with sunlight
leaking through blinds,
the analysts have come
with numbers
from their worldwide offices
for a yearly meeting.

Everything adds up wrong.

Everyone believes
their numbers are true
but I know what's wrong,
having done the math,
yet say nothing.

I stare through the blinds.

Someone in the prehistory
of this business park
designed a duckpond
and two ducks come here

only two
they make a nest
in the same place
near the pond. Each time
the feral cats another analyst
insists on feeding daily,
eat the eggs.

[email protected]

Click here for October 2001 Featured Poets page 2 --> link for second half of featured poets....

Dream Horse Press

is happy to announce the winner of it's first annual chapbook contest:
The Florida Letters by Ryan G. Van Cleave.

Glossy cover, 28pp, with cover art by Bob Dornberg.

$5.95 US plus shipping and handling.


"Out of Our Minds"

Is a weekly hour-long radio show dedicated to poetry and poetics. Join host Dancing Bear Wednesday nights 8-9pm Pacific Daylight Time, webcasted live http://live.kkup.com:8000 or if you live in the SF Bay Area try KKUP FM91.5.

Future guests of the show include: Dane Cervine; Whitman McGowan; Lesley Dauer; Sandra Gilbert; Robert Sward; Penny Cagan; The Montserrat Review; and Susan Terris. Previous guests of the show have included: Arthur Sze; C.K. Williams; Dorianne Laux; Kim Addonizio; C. Dale Young; Richard Silberg; Stellasue Lee; Robert Pesich; and Robert Funge.

Lend an ear.

The 14th St. Y of the Educational Alliance
The Center for Cultural and Performing Arts
Wendy Sabin-Lasker, Director WhY Women Poetry Series,
Veronica Golos, Artistic Coordinator for Literary Programs




Thursdays 7:00pm

Opening Doors - Oct 4 - $7
With DH Melhem, Rashidah Ismaili, Veronica Golos;
music by Brandon Terzic;
photography by Jack Miller (for sale).

Night of Laughter - Oct 18 - $10
With poet humorist Hal Sirowitz and storyteller supreme Lisa Lipkin.

The Feeling of Flesh - Nov 8 - $7
With Cortney Davis and Sondra Zeidenstein;
music by Rhythms of Aqua.

Ceremonies of Light - Dec 6 - $7
With Enid Dame, and others TBA.

Something Understood... - Dec 20 - $12
With Phillis Levin introducing her new anthology,
The Penquin Book of the Sonnet, with special quest, BILLY COLLINS and
(readings by contributors, and gift books for sale). Music by
Sarafina Martino and James Smith on lute.

* These programs are made possible in part by grants from
Poets and Writers, Inc.


The Inviting Artists Series invites publishers, project coordinators and
curators to utilize the Y's space to present their work.
For information on rates and event dates call Veronica Golos at
212-780-0800 ext. 255.

For more information about events in the fall, or to join the mailing list, write to:
Victoria Golos [email protected]

344 East 14th St.
New York, NY 10003, USA

212-780-0800 x255

For Kedco Artist Profile Press

We pay in free copies of anthology + prizes for the best.
Short story trophies + solid silver medallions to be won!

Submissions of short stories and/or up to 10 poems wanted for new MILLENNIUM DAWN anthology, to be published both as a CD rom and a bound book.

Email submissions to Elaine Davis at [email protected] before end of October 2001.

THE PERILS OF NORRIS cartoon, #6 of new story. Spot Reginald The Rat and win a prize! Email [email protected] and say where he is in the cartoon...

The Perils of Norris started in August 2000. To catch up on past episodes, click the links below, then your browser's Back button to return.

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