I was fortunate to place several poems and a literary essay in various literary journals in the last several months of 2019, plus another poem that just went live this month and will be in print in February 2020, and one of my favorites, "Blueshift," which appeared in Cold Mountain Review early last summer but which I never got around to announcing on this site (it's been a hectic academic-job-application season):
Here's a little more information about each of these pieces:
"Snow-bound," in The New Criterion:
are etched in their crystal bulks—
we enjoy them from a distance
when we can, dark roast on our tongues...
Shortly after its appearance online, I was honored to hear that this poem was featured in the email newsletter Prufrock News. It was a long time germinating. I drafted the first version of it for Debra Marquart's poetry workshop at the Iowa State University MFA Program in Creative Writing and Environment in the early 2010s, while I was living in Ames. My recent revisiting and revision of this piece depended upon finding the sheet with Deb's handwritten notes on it in a file folder sometime last year—I'm continually grateful to her and to that bristling workshop group, which uncompromisingly forced from us two new poems a week. The town of Ames clearly influenced the piece, although I would not have written it as I did if my grandpa had not introduced me to John Greenleaf Whittier's sprawling domestic epic titled "Snow-Bound" by reciting the vast majority of it to a group of somewhat stunned family members in Elgin, Illinois, after explaining that he had had to learn it for a recitation contest at his rural Nebraska school, back in the days when that school was small and somewhat local and had posts to hitch your horse to. Grandpa, now 92, just returned from a trip with my dad back to North Platte, Nebraska, for the funeral of his sister-in-law June, and I wonder if the old landscape drew more poetry from him in his recent days there.
"To My Father, on the Table, Several States Away" on the "Open Space" platform of North American Review:
that engine for years, leaned with metal
knees, with rod, pin, and bone, to clear
an icy path.
I wrote the first draft of this poem around a year ago, while my dad was under surgery in Michigan for his most recent knee replacement, and it is an homage to him. I hope it provides you with a little warmth this January. Thanks to Sarah Burke, who provided initial feedback on the poem and helped me polish it up (go order her poetry book Blueprints now!), and thanks so much to NAR for giving it such a lovely online home!
"Earth Room," in About Place:
In like layers, leaf mold
gathers each autumn on sidewalks and yearns,
I suppose, to become earth. It will, somehow.
This poem was inspired by a visit to The New York Earth Room in Soho about a year ago with the NYC Space Poets, Heba Goodday, Saronik Bosu, Alexa Logush, and Justin Aoba, and it benefitted greatly from their jam. It also draws inspiration, as so much of my work does these days, from my beloved fiancée Monique. Thanks so much to editors Austin Smith, Brenna Cussen Anglada, and Taylor Brorby for giving this poem a home, and for curating such an incredible collection of work, spanning the whole of this great, strange, varied country, which the issue follows Rebecca Solnit in describing as "infinite." My poem concludes the section titled "East: Rebirth." The whole issue is worth your time.
"Symphonies and Sweet Potatoes," in Newfound:
"In our cars, we knew the landmarks. From the Caravan, Michigan's frequent stands of maples, oaks, and cottonwoods would gradually thin. We'd pass the pair of cylindrical blue metal towers of the chemical plant with the strings of Christmas lights on top, descending conically from the antennae; the rust-belt fire-belching steel mills of Gary; the acrid smell when we opened the doors to use the McDonald's restroom at the entrance to the Illinois Tollway. When we'd drive over the limestone quarry, gaping on either side of the freeway, we'd know we were getting close, and we'd compete to see who could spot the Sears Tower first. Dad would often take us through downtown Chicago, right past the base of Sears, and then the buildings would thin like the forests in Michigan, everything spread out and paved over, and eventually the one-car basket tollbooth that, after Dad appeased it with a toss of change from Mom's purse, would spit us into Elgin, 'The City in the Suburbs.'"
I wrote the first draft of this essay years ago in Mary Swander's Food Writing class in the Iowa State University MFA Program in Creative Writing and Environment. The essay was dear to me then and became more so while it continued to develop as the events it describes unfolded in real time. Thanks, Mary, for guiding me through the writing of it, and to all my workshop-mates at ISU. Thanks also to Ploi Pirapokin, A.K. Kelly, Levis Keltner, and Laura Eppinger at Newfound, who all did incredible things turning this essay into a more well-crafted and visually stunning piece of art—it's such a privilege to work with such a careful and caring editorial team! And thanks to old Liberty Hyde Bailey, excerpts from whose horticultural writings on sweet potatoes interpenetrate this braided narrative.
I also owe an unending supply of gratitude to my dear family, who continue to gather in Elgin for Thanksgiving with my grandfather year after year. This year was the first, aside from the year described in the essay, that I missed the festivities, as I was celebrating with my fiancée's family in New York, but I was with my Midwestern family in spirit, *and* I successfully made Great Grandma Larson's candied sweet potatoes once again for an annual Canadian Thanksgiving celebration at my friends' place in Brooklyn. The traditions continue, on and on, mending the rifts and filling the gaps, an unending ode to joy.
"Disclaimer," in Vallum: Contemporary Poetry:
of windows, basement cricket
legging away, eventual fizz
of beer caps loosened
This little piece, featured in Vallum's issue on the topic of "Fear," is another that first emerged so many years ago in Deb Marquart's poetry workshop at Iowa State. It captures something of the desperation that occasionally comes with graduate student life, and the "fear," I suppose, of falling behind, of disappointing those above you, of never catching up. It also owes something to the time I spent with Rachael Button, who was a great friend and support in those days, as well as a steady work buddy.
"On the President's Announcement of Our Hashtag," in Writers Resist:
Then we'd each lift a rock and toss it up
into the clicking branches, watch it fall
gleaming along a trail the trees had altered,
and catch it in our shirt-sleeve-guarded hands...
Written on the occasion of President Barack Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline in November 2015 and published then in This Week in Poetry, this poem has found new life among the passionate and wonderful community of activists over at Writers Resist. Thanks to Rachael Shay Button for first publishing the piece in TWIP, and to Kit-Bacon Gressitt, Tori Cardenas, Sara Marchant, and Ying Wu for giving it new life in this lovely journal! If you're reading this and don't yet subscribe, it's free, and you should! And per WR's policy, it's available to be shared far and wide through a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license (details on their website).
"Blueshift," from Cold Mountain Review:
the gentle curling of that life, when fish
washed up in summers gape-eyed by
the scores and all the world smelled like lakeside
This poem tries to get at a lot of the themes that have occupied me in recent years, including the blending of nature and culture, ecological change and shifting baselines, love of place, love for people, the presence of history, etc. It draws on my research of the Potawatomi chief and writer Simon Pokagon, as well as on a memorable lesson taught to my class by my great sixth-grade science teacher Kathleen Brumbaugh, who we lost several years ago and to whom the poem is dedicated. My unending gratitude goes out to the memory of her and to all passionate public school teachers with whom I have had the privilege to learn. Thanks also to the friends who gave early drafts of this poem a read when I wrote it a little over a year ago. Writing is never a solitary act.