jeffrey johannes, michael farmer, cory a. masiak, jude genereaux, bobbie krinsky | WISCONSIN POETS’ CALENDAR, 2011

19 07 2010

Poetry Dispatch No. 327 | July 19, 2010


Jeffrey Johannes, Michael Farmer, Cory A. Masiak, Jude Genereaux, Bobbie Krinsky

Editor’s Note: This excellent collection, the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Celebration of Wisconsin’s Best Poetry (, first published by Tom and Mary Montag in 1982 and under the superb direction of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets since 1987, is an annual reminder that poetry is alive and well in a Midwestern state noted for cows, cheese, beer, Fighting Bob LaFollette’s Progressive Party, and the Green Bay Packers.

The 2011 edition, extremely well-edited by Sandra Lindow and Peg Lauber, represents over two hundred Wisconsin poets, from the state’s past and present poet laureates to fledgling writers finding print for the first time. That’s a particular measure of mine I champion whenever possible: Does this little magazine publication, small press, etc. keep its door wide open for any and every writer who submits a piece of work for publication, or is it a ‘private club’ of like-minded friends and academics who publish only themselves? What I particularly admire about three Wisconsin publications—the former Free Verse, Hummingbird, and the Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar—is the open door policy, knowing how difficult it has always been for beginning writers to get their foot in the literary door, even more so these days via print.

The 2011 calendar is further enhanced by the cover and interior art work of poet/painter of Candace Hennekens.

Bear in mind that my selections for this posting represent a very small fraction of all the fine work to be found in this volume. Also, many of the poets are either friends of mine and/or former students of my annual writing workshop at The Clearing, here in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin where I live, many of them with a substantial amount of books and credits to their name, and consequently will try my best (with the possibility of one or two exceptions) to concentrate primarily on the poets I do not know and/or those who could use a little more exposure.

This collection is such a rich resource of good work, I will very likely return to it throughout the year and post additional poems either on this site or either of my two Wisconsin sites: NBCoop News or Door County Today. —Norbert Blei

Some Winter Day
Think of winter as the creative
recluse who emerges
from his half of your duplex
to borrow a cup of sugar.
He sits at your table sipping coffee,
frost clinging to his beard.
Your coffee still too hot to drink,
conversation drifts.
You try to remind him about color:
daffodils, playground chalk, koi;
but he only wants to talk
about his latest composition,
an opera in which the protagonist
paints the world white.
It takes him all morning to sing
the opening aria.
Outside your window,
snow lifts and curls.
You light a cigarette,
pour some Irish whiskey
into your coffee,
and settle in for the second act.

Jeffrey Johannes


ice fishing called off
boat refuses proper launch
water much too hard

–Michael Farmer


I have to dig deep
to learn to be farmer again
I have to uproot
the strata of office jobs
the habit of meetings
and memos
and get my hands dirty
break into working sweat
dig past
the academic degrees
and study abroad
to find the grain
that kernel of need
and obligation
and love
in the sweet soil of me

–Cory A. Masiak

Bait Shop
You know that smell
the minute you walk in
Know you’ve reached back & found it again
that old bait shop, milk & bread store
at the Four corners by the lake.

Could be in Petoskey where Old Hem
hung out on his way to the Big Two Hearted
or the one in Baileys on the harbor
any hundred others near the U.P. or the Brule

And you’re 10 again, a can of worms in your fist
waiting for Dad to take you out in that old row boat
with the leaky bottom, water sloshing between the slats
tied to the dock & bobbing in morning mist
up at Uncle Hank’s.

Walk through that old wooden screen door—BAM!
Bags of chips, iced cokes & souvenirs—jack knives,
birch bark canoes &; sweetgrass baskets For Sale
next to postcards of black bear & trout, all
steeped in the scent of old wood, damp & musty
Closed-for-Winter air lingering in summer’s musk

Walking back through that door
to summers past.

—Jude Genereaux

Winter’s First Orange

On nights like these
when temperatures plunge
and turn our world
into black ice and powder white

and my dog—even my dog—
won’t step outside,

it’s time to reach
for my first winter’s orange,
peel it in a single spiral,
lean over the kitchen sink
and, juice running
down my fingers,
take one bite, then another
and another
till lips and tongue tingling,

I purr, “Hey Jack Frost,
blow me a kiss.”

–Bobbie Krinsky

For those wishing to get a copy of the Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar, drop by the Clearing in Ellison Bay or Novel Ideas in Baileys Harbor if you are local, or to go the the website and hit the Calendar link for information…then wander through some of the other areas to find out more about the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.

norbert blei | the poetry of persona and the divided self

6 02 2009


Poetry Dispatch No. 269 | February 6, 2009

The Poetry of Persona and the Divided Self
Norbert Blei

Not every poet finds a reason or need to develop a voice within a voice, another ‘persona’ if you will, but for sometime a number of poets (Americans in particular) have been getting outside/inside themselves in a way writers of fiction create `characters’ or characters to voice other levels of meaning.

CAUTION: It may seem an easy thing to do. But it’s not something you can play around with like: “I think today I’ll write a sonnet” ten consider yourself Shakespeare. Rather…it’s a voice that may (or may not) call you when you are ready to listen—and record. One way or another, life itself propels you in this direction. Which is always the way of authentic writing. When it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit. When it’s true, it’s true.

The late John Berryman, author of an American classic, THE DREAM SONGS, is one of these poets who introduces the character of Henry in his work. A likeable guy. So much so that the reader begins to feel comfortable in the possibility that Berryman and Henry are one or share the same sensibility which the recorded moment requires—sad, sensitive, self-indulgent, self-disparaging, confessional roustabouts with something unsettling to say about life, art, the American dream:

Books drugs razor whisky shirts
Henry lies ready for his Eastern tour,
swollen ankles, one hand,
air reservations. Friends at the end of the hurts,
a winter mind resigned: literature
must spread, you understand,

–from “Dream Song 169” of THE DREAM SONGS, Farra, Strauss, Giroux

berrymanHenry = Berryman? Some resemblance, perhaps. Though Berryman himself states: “The poem, then, whatever its wide cast of characters, is essentially about an imaginary character (not the poet, not me) named Henry, a white-American in early middle age sometimes in black face, who has suffered an irreversible loss and talks about himself sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the third, sometimes even in the second; he has a friend, never named, who addresses him as Mr. Bones and variants thereof. Requiescat in pace.”

Paul Zimmer, (FAMILY REUNION: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, THE ZIMMER POEMS, etc. University of Pittsburg Press) is an immensely entertaining yet serious poet with his own special take on an alter ego who looks at the real world through the small-town eyes of a character named Zimmer. The titles alone pull you immediately into his world: “Zimmer and the Ghost”, “Zimmer Remembering Wanda”, “Zimmer Imagines Heaven”, “Zimmer’s Last Gig”, “Zimmer Is Icumen In”…


At the blackboard I had missed
Five number problems in a row,
And was about to foul a sixth,
When the old, exasperated nun
Began to pound my head against
My six mistakes. When I cried,
She threw me back into my seat,
Where I hid my head and swore
That very day I’d be a poet,
And curse her yellow teeth with this.

My friend, Illinois poet of the people and the prairie, Dave Etter, has to date never developed a whole book of poems to a character of his named Doreen (shades of an old high school sweetheart, word has it) but she pops up occasionally in his work, especially in a book of prose poems, HOME STATE (Spoon River Poetry Press).


Doreen always sleeps in a pajama top—that’s all. Winter or summer, just a pajama top. Who wears the bottoms? How would I know? Nobody, I guess. She probably uses them for dust rags, or maybe she gives them away to some girl who sleeps only in pajama bottoms. The way Doreen squirms and kicks her legs in bed, I can understand very well why she opts for tops over bottoms. What do I wear between the sheets? Well, it’s none of your business, but if you must know, I wear neither pajama tops or pajama bottoms. You wouldn’t either if you slept with Doreen.

On the international scene, one poet in particular of the post-modernist school, Zbigniew Herbert of Poland, brings a thoughtful character to light, Mr. Cogito, who seems to carry the whole sad history of Eastern Europe on his shoulders as he ponders the state of our times.


If I went back there
probably I wouldn’t find
even shadow from my house
nor the trees of childhood
nor the cross with n iron plate
the bench where I whispered incantations
chestnuts and blood
not a single thing that is ours…
…while all around
piles of ash are growing
up to my shoulders
up to my mouth

from MR. COGITO, The Ecco Press

Back in the rural Midwest, over in Minnesota, the poet Leo Dangel sometimes sees the world through Old Man Brunner’s magnificent, munificent eyes:


Old Man Brunner never cuts his weeds.
Right up to the house,
sunflowers and fire weeds
grow tough and hard as small trees.
In the summer evening, Old Man Brunner
sits and surveys his jungle,
his sleeves rolled up,
his cracked shoes beside him.
Old man Brunner’s feet are white,
white as angel feet.
He hold one white foot in his brown hand
and cuts his toenails
with a tin shears.

-from OLD MAN BRUNNER COUNTRY, Spoon River Poetry Press

It is almost impossible to read any of the many collections of the late Bukowski’s (Charles) poems, stories and novels and not come up with a street-wise character, part buffoon, part philosopher, part loser, part poet…semi-serious slant on himself, Bukowski likes to call Chinaski:


I met the movie star, he’s playing Chinaski
in my new movie, I pout my hand on his shoulder: “you’re
all right, Ben,” I tell him.
then the famous Italian director puts his leg up on
the table: “now I’ll drink with you Chinaski,” he says.
(that’s the way he always drinks, I’m told.)
“o.k.,” I say and I put my leg up on the table.
I drain my glass, he fills it again, I drain it
Again, he fills it again.

they know I’m a real guy then.

-from, OPEN ALL NIGHT, Black Sparrow Press

Tom Montag, one of our best Wisconsin poets did a book, Ben Zen THE OX OF PARADOX with my press, (Cross+Roads Press) in l999 which is a wonder to read, behold. I won’t say It’s all Zen; I won’t say it isn’t Zen. I will say that for any reader with the slightest interest in the subject, not to mention a love of poetry—Tom Montag speaks to you in this book—through the simple presence of a wise old farmer, who sounds a lot like a Zen monk, speaking in koans:


Engineers are like poets,
Ben says, only backwards.


If you don’t have
Truth in your heart

You won’t know
What you have.

Anything will fit, Ben says.
You just have to learn to wear it.

Oh to a be the junkman, Ben says.
To have everything no one wants.


Much as I’ve been,
Ben says,
I’ve never been enough.


There do not seem to be as many women writing the poetry of persona as men, though one in particular, Lyn Lifshin, whom I have read for more than twenty years in hundreds of little magazines, has written “more than a thousand” (she tells me) “Madonna” poem (in addition to her regular poetry) and is still writing them. Her “Madonna” is—ribald, rambunctious, erotic, excessive, demanding, demeaning, ironic, iconic, horny, heady, outspoken, outrageous…born to deliver the double whammy. Her latest books are: COLD COMFORT and BEFORE IT’S LIGHT (Black Sparrow Press). Collections of her Madonna poems, are hard to find. Check out: I leave you in her (“Madonna’s”), warm, anxious hands:


around her bed:
spoons like lovers
licked and left


makes you feel
good twice


gets you going
fast, leaves
you in your
own juices


unexpectedly hot
but she doesn’t stay


is into feminism
likes to tower over men
thinks of them all as dopey


takes what she
can’t use
and uses it
so it won’t
use her

from Wormwood Reviews, #’s 82, 87, 92, 117


For a number of years now a local character by the name of Olaf has been knocking on my door, pulling up a chair here in the coop, drinking all my brandy, telling me some of the damnedest stories. But I’ll save him for another time.

tom montag | the ox of paradox

6 10 2007



Poetry Dispatch No. 27 | November 12, 2005

Anything will fit, Ben says.
You just have to wear it.


O, to be the junkman, Ben says.
To have everything no one wants.

Tom Montag

Cross+Roads Press