Category Archives: Poetry

“Nations are born in the hearts of poets. They prosper and die in the hands of politicians.” -Muhammad Iqbal

One More Final Poem

In a blogging tradition going back to the early 1840s, every April 30th I post one of the poems I wrote in the preceding thirty days to mark the end of National Poetry Month. Unfortunately, because I’m a grad student, I had to spend most of my time writing research papers (all about Canada), and did not reach my goal of thirty poems. But I don’t want to skip this beloved tradition, so I wrote one more final poem this morning. It’s the first thing I’ve written in two weeks not about Canada.

GalwayAfter Galway Kinnell

“We lie close,
as if having waked
in bodies of glory.” -Galway Kinnell, “The Last River”

I ignore the news of floods and wind this morning
in favor of another kind of news, certainly not gospel
but written with another kind of good news,
this aged copy of Body Rags I haven’t read in years.

A more clinical approach to wandering bodies might be useful today;
I could take on a diagnostic demeanor to dissect
the way bodies fall in motion beyond my control,
spinning down a river with fickle rapids
knocking back and forth, back and forth,
away and towards a rumbling unknowing,
but Galway keeps winking at me from the page
to find the glory in the body. Maybe

that’s all there is to us: we are meandering
collages of bone, blood, stretched tissue

and bird-shy nerves emailing sensations to one another,
quietly demanding more sunlight on skin, more rivers to listen to,
more poetry to see in the clouds, all these furtive microselves

gossiping to each other the full extent of the body’s glories
back and forth, back and forth. How else does good news spread?

I hold onto this dying copy of Body Rags
tracing my fingers down the pages, like deep beaches
with thin blue streaks where a friend underlined her favorite lines.
Maybe there’s enough gloriousness to go on here,
some secret, hushed process of bliss that saturates
when I’m closer to the sunniest people I know,

but even my god-obsessed metaphors go overboard,
so here I stop to underline my own favorite line with blue ink,
adding one more river to the desert-tan pages
rocky with broken sentences.

-jk

Copyright, Keene Short 2016. Photo: I asked Lost Compass Photography for a photo of Galway Kinnell, but those dorks gave me a photo of Galway, Ireland, which is why the senior photographer isn’t getting his twenty bucks.

 

Juggling Poetry and Prose

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April is National Poetry Month, and by tradition I dedicate this month to writing thirty poems, one each day. I may never have reached that goal, but it’s still an opportunity to write forward. Poetry is a nearly religious part of my life, but I treat every other form of writing the same way.

As long as I’ve written I’ve juggled poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, but in grad school I’m unofficially designated a fiction student. My master’s thesis will (probably, maybe, don’t ask me) be a collection of short stories,  but I’ve never thought of myself as a specialist. Most writers do specialize, though, and as April begins, I can understand why writers might want to dedicate themselves to mastering only one form.

During March, I pushed myself to the writerly limits. I churned out four short story drafts and seven poems, and started a nonfiction essay. While planning my Fall schedule, I schemed ways to take both a poetry tutorial and a creative nonfiction class. The few publications I can claim have ranged from poetry to prose to drama. As a result, my overall portfolio increases steadily, but my skill as a writer continues to be scattered across genres, and while all forms have some things in common, they each require different kinds of effort.

I probably should focus on just one form. I could master fiction, inhabiting characters and pushing plots, or poetry, and improve how I carve roads out of language. Mastering nonfiction would force me into my own head, and theater would confine my characters to the concrete realm of the stage. Or I could shock the world by submitting a series of interconnected Foucauldian pizzas to my committee for cooking competition-style judgment.

The truth is that I simply don’t want to specialize. I started writing because I loved reading and wanted to make others feel what I feel. If my prose suffers for my poetry, or the other way around, so be it. I know the consequences of being scattered, and I’ll write forward in spite of them.

-jk

Broken Strings

Today is World Poetry Day, and by tradition on this blog (after having done it once), I’ll celebrate by posting an original poem. But today isn’t just about writing poetry; it’s about reading it. Currently, I’m enjoying Brandon Som’s The Tribute Horse. Let me know in the comments what poetry you’re reading, and I hope you enjoy my own contribution. If not, I have others.

Fiddle

Violins are such distraught instruments,
attention-hungry, stage-front and fraught with stage fright
as they demand burning strings with match-striking speed,
snapping bow hairs. When violinists listen
they can hear the glue dry on the tuning pegs,
can hear the instrument creak under the pressure
of a perfect performance, and still audiences almost never see
the violin at home. The smallest things do the worst damage;
a change in weather alone can pop a string. In silence
they release the pressure; tuning pegs unwind
letting out the strings, freeing them from the chipped bridge.
Violinists anthropomorphized these tools, naming them with anatomy,
the neck and body, not for the romance of it
but to transplant their body’s torment onto an instrument,
to make it suffer with them.
How frail the off-stage violin can be,
letting small things gnaw at it from the inside out,
allowing snowflake-sized details to warp its wood, melt its glue.
But these things are easy to fix. I can tune a violin
but what of the violinist? What of the audience? The streets?
Can we fine tune the weather to make the planet ripe again?
It doesn’t take a petition to tune an instrument
or social media campaigns to rosin a bow.
I can fix a broken string, but there my skills end
in the wake of so many other broken things,
cities, hearts, correspondences, futures. I can mend an instrument
held together and torn apart again by chance,
but for all the brokenness I can only marvel
at musicians with stage presence and their perfect instruments
that never need tweaking, never gather yellow layers of rosin dust,
never slide out of tune with the changing seasons
the way mine always seems to these days.

Copyright Keene Short, 2016.

 

Reading at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association Conference

In other news, I read some poetry at a big fancy academic conference.

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This week, scholars, musicians, writers, film critics, professors, fans of The Grateful Dead, zombie fanatics, pop culture critics and lovers (one in the same, here) flocked to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to discuss their ideas, share their theses, their creative works, their analysis of other people’s creative works, and generally enjoy the spirit of popular culture.

In one day alone, I’ve heard scholar/fans discuss the relationship between Rick and Morty in Rick and Morty, compare Jurassic World and the TV series Zoo, analyze countless horror movies (from Poltergeist to The Babadook), explore various media’s fixation with underage serial killers, give two different interpretations of David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, explore the role of nature as a setting in The Walking Dead, critique consumer culture in prepper magazines and the capitalist frenzy to buy things before the coming apocalypse, and read a variety of poetry.

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Reading my own work for an audience was not entirely new to me; I’ve made use of open-mic nights and poetry slams now and again. This venue certainly was new to me, though, but I don’t want readers to assume that I think a conference is somehow better than a slam. Poetry is meant to be read out loud, and all venues are equally worthy and professional; poetry slams are just as important as big fancy academic conferences. But here, my audience differs, and the tone is more critical, more focused on poetry within popular culture rather than poetry alone. Where else can I backup a poem about the end of the world with information I’d heard half an hour before?

I’m centered in the academic world, and this is an academic pilgrimage that I’m honored to take. Reading in front of a live audience, of course, is terrifying, but also thrilling, and I hope to enjoy that thrill again soon.

There are still plenty of days left in the conference, and there is more to come.

-jk

 

Two Poems Published in NEAT

Portrait of the City as FatherhoodI’m pleased to announce that two poems of mine, “Portrait of the City as a Love Story” and “Fatherhood,” have been published in Issue 9 of NEAT, a lovely online journal showcasing Midwestern writers, and the edition is up for viewing now. I’d be honored if any and all read them, and the other excellent work in this edition of NEAT. There’s obviously only one adjective to describe this: cool.

While the city in this picture is Lincoln, the first poem was actually written in Minneapolis.

-jk

P.S. I listened to “Tristesse Suspendue” by Chic Gamine and “Far From Any Road” by The Handsome Family wile writing and revising these two poems, respectively. The songs should demonstrate the drastically different moods I was in while writing them.

In the Company of Roses

Flower Last week, a man told me a parable about a lump of clay and some roses. He cited it as a Persian parable, but I did some research and found that it actually comes from the thirteenth century Persian poet Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī, commonly known as Sa’di. He is one of the most influential poets in Islamic and Asian literature. In Iran, April 21 is celebrated as Sa’di Day.

While Europeans were busy killing each other in the medieval period, which they eventually termed the Dark Ages like a bad sequel to the Roman Empire, most of Western and Central Asia witnessed an artistic, philosophical, and scientific renaissance. Sa’di was only a part of this unique cultural era.

The poem I heard comes from the “Adoration and Preamble” section of Gulistan, or “the rose garden,” one of Sa’di’s most famous works. It reads something like this:

“I held in my bath a per­fumed piece of clay
that came to me from a beloved’s hand.
I asked it, ‘Are you musk or amber­gris?
Like fine wine, your smell intox­i­cates me.’

Till some­one set me down beside a rose,’
it said, ‘I was a loath­some lump of clay.
My companion’s scent seeped into me.
Oth­er­wise, I am only the earth that I am.'”

Apart from talking lumps of clay, I love this poem because it reminds me that I am defined by my proximity to others more than I realize.

Artistically, I am the product of the writers and poets I read: Billy Collins, Sylvia Plath, Douglas Adams, John Steinbeck, Dunya Mikhail, Jamaica Kincaid, and Pablo Neruda have made me the writer I am. Aesthetically, the Southwest made me an experimental, avant-garde magical realist. Socially, I am shaped by my friends, family, lovers, mentors, and the two or three enemies I keep around for good measure. Professionally, I’m a workaholic, being the son of professors who know education is a religious devotion serving the many at the expense of the few, the happy few.

I’m honored to live in the company of roses. I surround myself with those who inspire me. It took me a while to figure out how miserable one can get surrounded by those who are negative, over-critical, dishonest, manipulative, and toxic. I don’t mean I’m in the company of the perfect; all roses have their thorns. But for what it’s worth, I’m glad to let my friends rub off on me. It makes me a better person (and apparently more appealing to bathe with) to walk with roses.

-jk

Climate Poem: Murder of Crows

Climate fiction (cli-fi) and other forms of ecological literature have been around for a long time, from Edward Abbey to Margaret Atwood. Today, I decided to dabble in ecological poetry about my home state’s claim to fame.

Murder of Crows

See the Grand Canyon, an overture in foliage, The Bland Canyon
a cacophony of life. A murder

of crows, watchful, calculating,
circles above the ever-emptying Canyon.
They perch along the new uranium rigs,
rancourous tourist bathrooms, a clearance sale
of the canyon’s condors, now going out of business.
Sun-dried pilgrims flock into the sandy mouth
by gondola, elevator, jeep,
no descent beyond imagination,

to where the river once flowed when tourists trickled
by the curious dozen. The crows all grin
as the tourists cascade, a new waterfall of sweaty flesh
bringing with them whole picnics
to toss into the shock of relief,

greenless, insect-ripe, a sight to behold.
The murder of crows delights in the garbage,

lab-made meat patties, factory salads,
brownies with a genesis in HTML,
plastic coffee in plastic cups, and endless anti-depressants
packed into health bars laced with enough alcohol
to relax the fast-paced tourist.
The crows become drunk on their dessert

dropped by the sweating fingers
under their generation’s birthright summer scorches.
See the murder of crows feast

on the bodies piled into the Canyon,
sunburned limbs, imported clothes like packaging,
a soup of sun screen and contaminated sweat
fermenting in the Canyon’s deep barrels.

See the crows peck at weeds, fingers, preservatives
dumped into the bone-dry skeleton of the Southwest.

-jk

Copyright Keene Short, 2015. Photograph magnanimously donated by the spectacular travelers at Lost Compass Photography.