Tag Archives: poetry

Friday Reads — Notes from the Journey Westward by Joe Wilkins

notes-from-the-journey-westward-finalI met Joe Wilkins briefly at the 2012 edition of the Montana Festival of the Book, where he was promoting his excellent memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up on The Big Dry. I had hoped to speak with him again this year, when he was once again a guest of the festival, but my schedule was such that I didn’t make it downtown until  Saturday afternoon. I saw Joe from across the room hustling somewhere, but I didn’t get a chance to wrangle him into conversation. So I bought his book of poetry instead, and I haven’t regretted it.

Here’s a poem from the excellent (and award winning!) collection of poetry called Notes from the Journey Westward by Joe Wilkins:

A cowbird pecks at the frozen edge
of a reservoir. The thin ice cracks.

A man throws the last flakes of hay
from the back of a flat-bed Ford.

The chewing cattle steam with heat.
The day is bright as dried bone.

Cottonwoods let go their breath
of wind, and a scrim of snow leaps

across the prairie. The cowbird
caws. In the cab the man wipes

frost from his beard, pours coffee
from a thermos, then reaches

into a brown paper bag and lifts out
two golden biscuits. The cowbird

wings its way to sky. The man says
a prayer for empty gizzards and eats.

I’ve said before that I struggle with poetry, and while a few of these make me scratch my head a little to try and comprehend, there are more than several that hit me right in the gut. Anyone with an interest in the form should check this guy out.


Friday Reads – Celebrations in the Ossuary by Kyle J. Knapp

cover_Ossuary_533wThis isn’t my typical Friday Reads post.

I’m writing about Celebrations in the Ossuary & Other Poems by Kyle J. Knapp, and it is a sad story. As if we could sum anyone up in just a few sentences, here is the background on just who Kyle Knapp was:

Kyle J. Knapp (September 1, 1989 – June 18, 2013) was a poet, musician, and short story writer from Freeville, New York. His debut collection of prose, Pluvial Gardens, was released in 2012. He studied Social Sciences at Tompkins Cortland Community College and worked for the school as an English tutor. Kyle enjoyed nature, fishing, and playing guitar. He was a prolific artist, who, at the time of his passing, had written enough material for two additional collections of poetry and a near-complete novel.

This is a young man and artist who died tragically at a young age. I only know his story because of his uncle, a writer I’ve never met in person but one I would never hesitate to call friend, David Cranmer. Dave is a guy who is doing his best to make sure his nephew’s work is known to the wider world. Hell, Dave is a guy who has helped many of us get our early work out into the wider world. He was the sender of the email I received while standing in line at a Staple’s store telling me he would be happy to publish my story, “The Pickle.” I was elated. It was my first published fiction, the first fiction I’d even written in almost twenty years.

I don’t know that I would have published anything else if he hadn’t done that. Don’t know that I would have had the patience, or the proper attitude, to weather the storm. The fact that I was successful with my first told me maybe I wasn’t wasting my time. Dave let me stand on his shoulders and share my work with the world from a vantage point that he had built, and from there I’ve done pretty well by my estimations. Just about everything I’ve written – admittedly, it hasn’t been much — has nonetheless found a home of some fashion. And I’m grateful for that first critical chance.

So when it comes to getting the word out about his nephew, you can damn well believe David Cranmer is welcome to climb up on my shoulders, such as they are, and hopefully get the word out to a few other people — those of you who read my blog — that may not have heard about it already.

Here is Dave talking about this collection of poetry. Please take the time to read it.

Here is Dave interviewing one of Kyle’s closest friends. Please take the time to read it.

Kyle seemed to be a troubled young man, battling more than his share of demons. Substance abuse, that horrible fate, the one that traps so many of the young, and that so many of us managed to get through. I was fortunate to have aged to my middle years without those particular problems, but many people I’ve been close to have not been so lucky. The best friends I’ve ever had are no longer in my life, and that revolves around these various abuses. I worry for my son, the things he does that I know about and things I know people around him do. It’s a rough road, growing up. You need to be able to take a punch, a knock-out, and get back off the mat. Sometimes more than once.

Just today Julia and I were talking about Jack Kerouac’s novel/pseudo-memoir, Big Sur. It’s a harrowing read, as he talks about battling alcoholism, what those stages are like, and just how grim the life seems to be for those of us on the outside looking in. It didn’t end well for Kerouac, as we know. From what Dave has told me, Kyle was a fan of Kerouac, and I couldn’t help but wonder what his take on this book might have been. Was it a cautionary tale? I hope so. So many young people read these artists of the past, and they only see the legend, the myth of high flying good times. It’s easy to forget that many of them died from their excesses, or had their lives ruined. A friend of mine, an older musician who had kicked hard drugs, told me how hard it is when he meets people who are on the same path he was on. But how he kicked, you know, he really didn’t have a message to deliver. “What do I tell them?” he said. “That I took a bunch of mushrooms and had this huge trip and when I came out of it I knew enough was enough, and I stopped right then, got on a bus, and traveled cross-country all the way back home feeling like I’d failed? Because that is exactly what happened. That’s not gonna fucking work for everybody.”

Reading Kyle’s poems, particularly his expressions from within as urged by Dave Cranmer, were hopefully his own journey, his trip, to get where he needed to be to find peace. I hope he found it, or was finding more of it, before he passed. I’m not going to talk about the poems, though. Who am I to say what they mean, and try and encourage you to try them based on my singular interpretations of what the man was saying? Poetry is so personal, and can be so hard to “get,” that just talking about poems sometimes seems like a big spoiler. You should just read them.

And spread the word.


Profits from sales of Kyle’s collection will go to his family and Tompkins Cortland Community College.




The Singer of Owls

“The Singer of Owls” by Margaret Atwood, from The Door

The singer of owls wandered off into the darkness.
Once more he had not won a prize.
It was like that at school.
He preferred dim corners, camouflaged himself
with the hair and ears of the others,
and thought about long vowels, and hunger,
and the bitterness of deep snow.
Such moods do not attract glitter.

What is it about me? he asked the shadows.
By this time they were shadows of trees.
Why have I wasted my lifeline?
I opened myself to your silences.
I allowed ruthlessness
and feathers to possess me.
I swallowed mice.
Now, when I’m at the end, and emptied
of words, and breathless,
you didn’t help me.

Wait, said the owl soundlessly.
Among us there are no prices.
You sang out of necessity,
as I do. You sang for me,
and my thicket, my moon, my lake.
Our song is a night song.
Few are awake.