Three Poems by Me

Three of my poems have appeared this month. Enjoy!

“The Other Eye Goes” in Rogue Agent:


“Make Your Own Fun” in Stirring:


“Invasive” in Strange Poetry:


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The Socratic Method


Philosophy, somehow, is not my cup of tea. I’m OK reading about it, and can even get into accounts of zany theological slugfests or mind-bending paradoxes. But none of my favorite writers are what you’d call philosophers, with the possible exception of Montaigne, and several of my all-time least favorite writers are: Derrida, Foucault, Hegel…and definitely Plato, working through his sock-puppet Socrates.

Maybe the biggest problem I have with philosophers is that they’ll say something obviously untrue (that writing comes before speech, or that we always cheer for the winner when reading about history) and go on to build an argument on it. As any mathematician will tell you, once you’ve made an invalid statement, you can use it to prove anything. But of course there’s nobody there to say, “Hey wait a minute, how exactly do you justify what you just said?”

What makes Socrates worse is that there is somebody there to call him on his whoppers,and they never ever do it. He’ll say, “Thus we have proved that only good men can have friends,” and instead of pulling him up short, his partners in dialogue play the role of infomercial hosts, saying the equivalent of “Tell me more!” Or comedy straight-men, saying whatever needs to be said to set up Socrates’ punch line. I end up not only feeling that Socrates is wrong, but that he is ever so pleased with himself, having put his friends in their place; he exudes the candor and humility of Ted Cruz.

Most things I have read about Socrates, though, range in tone from admiring to orgasmically admiring. So it was refreshing to read the following in Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. Having conceded that S was admirably calm in the face of death, he goes on:


He has however some very grave defects. He is dishonest and sophistical in argument, and in his private thinking he uses intellect to prove conclusions that are to him agreeable, rather than in a disinterested search for knowledge. There is something smug and unctuous about him which reminds one of a bad type of cleric….Unlike some of his predecessors, he was not scientific in his thinking, but was determined to prove the universe agreeable to his ethical standards. This is treachery to truth, and the worst of philosophic sins.

What he said.

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Mrs. Prufrock?

So, a woman in my poetry class wrote a poem in the voice of “Mrs. Prufrock,” giving her husband what for in no uncertain terms. Mr. P is, in her view, an arrogant bossy prick, expressing disgust at her arm-hair and criticizing her makeup, and she doesn’t for a moment buy his whole fake-humility routine. Plus, she doesn’t want to hear his stupid question.

(Here’s the poem, for easy reference: )

The feedback from fellow students cheered on Mrs. Prufrock for finally standing up to her despotic mate. I found this all rather puzzling, until one of the comments referred to Prufrock as ‘the great poet,’ and I realized that everyone thought Prufrock was the same person as T.S. Eliot. That explained at least some of the rage, if not its specific grounds. Then the teacher chimed in, saying that Prufrock is clearly a front for Eliot and his misogyny in the same way that Stephen Dedalus is a front for Joyce. And Eliot was a weenie (I paraphrase) for not daring to eat a peach.

My first thought was, doesn’t everybody know it’s a satire, that Eliot is making fun of Prufrock?, the poor schlub who is so terrified of rejection? But of course what everybody knows is not necessarily true…who knows, maybe it stopped being true in the years since I left grad school. So let’s see.

First of all, do people think the ‘you’ in the poem is Prufrock’s wife? That had never occurred to me; one reason, I suppose, is that ‘love song’ traditionally means a song of courtship. From Catullus to the troubadours to the sonneteers of the 1590s, you don’t see a whole lot of “Our 20 years of marriage have been super” poems. This may be a serious flaw in the Western literary tradition, but surely part of the satire in Prufrock is the hero’s failure to assume the role implied in the title.

Prufrock’s exaggerated fear of rejection also strikes me as more typical of a person on a date than of a spouse, though if she’s as rageful as in my colleague’s poem, his anxiety might be justified. For that matter, I always thought JAP was excited by the realization that she has light-brown hairs on her arm…he does use an exclamation mark, after all. Where’s the disgust?

Eliot had many unattractive qualities, but he was not a complete idiot. If he really was afraid to eat peaches, or quaked at the disapproval of servants (“I have seen the Eternal Footman hold my coat and snicker”), would he have told us about it?

The comparison to Joyce is interesting…he gives his alter ego the name of a mythic hero, a man of superior intelligence and craft, Daedalus. Eliot gives JAP a name that suggests a prude in a frock coat…is that really how he would have chosen to represent himself? We know that Stephen is basically Joyce because he has Joyce’s life, from Clongowes Wood School to the Martello tower in Sandycove, where his roommates are obviously Joyce’s roommates under pseudonyms (e.g., the overbearing medical student Buck Mulligan is the overbearing medical student Oliver Gogarty). They have the same favorite obscure writers, such as Giordano Bruno. One could go on.

Does Prufrock have anything in comon with Eliot? Is he from St. Louis, or even the States? Is he a writer, a student of Sanskrit, and admirer of the theology of Cardinal Newman, does he prefer Coriolanus to the plays everybody else likes? Not so’s I can recall.

If you’re still here, you’re probably wondering why I even care so much. Some of it is just the feeling of being gaslighted, having a teacher who has a PhD believe something that seems so crazy. But I should also admit that I like Prufrock and feel sorry for him. Having been, at times, a shy person terrified of rejection, I am willing to concede that such people are mockable, but it pains me to see them hated and reviled rather than pitied.

Like Apollinaire says,

Car il y a tant de choses que je n’ose vous dire Tant de choses que vous ne me laisseriez pas dire Ayez pitié de moi

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Four of my poems in FRiGG

Four of my poems (“Sublunary,” “Hello Kid Me,” “Post-Punk,” and “Our Vegetable Love”) are in the new issue of FRiGG:



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The Defining Genre of OUr Culture: The Cat Video or…


One of the characteristic genres of our culture is the roadkill poem. The Old English elegists had life as a journey through bitter winter weather, the Minnesinger had their seductive nightingales and the trovatori their unwelcome dawn, and we got roadkill. There is (or it feels as though there were) at least one homage to roadkill in each edition of The Best American Poetry, and on the whole, I cannot say I’m a big fan. I do like this one, though, partly because it turns against some of the standard ways of poeticizing the deer/squirrel/opossum in question.

I don’t really have an opinion on the title.

Gerald Stern, “Behaving Like a Jew”


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Poem “Under Heaven”

My poem “Under Heaven” is in the current issue of Verse-Virtual:


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Poem, “The Pleasure Principle”

My poem “The Pleasure Principle” is now up on Strange Poetry:

Roy White /The Pleasure Principle/

Enjoy in moderation.

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