This is the first installment of our National Poetry Month Event, “Crossing the Country, Line by Line.” C. Denby Swanson of Texas was the first in this particular poetry chain, and she invited Todd Boss, who invited Lisa Vihos, and so on–and we encourage you to check out their bios, too, because these are some Seriously Important Poets writing for us! To trace the progress of this chain on a map of the USA, click here. Enjoy!
C. Denby Swanson (Texas)
What is it with neighbors?
One ill-timed joke about
Jumping the chain link
To swim in their pool
(“Ha ha ha! Such a kidder.”)
I look out the back window and
There’s an eight-foot privacy fence
Separating our yards.
No heads up, no warning
And of course we can’t talk now –
The wood slats are just about watertight.
I just hear their dogs,
Deep-barked, muscular mutts,
Animal rescue types.
As if I could have gotten past those creatures
In the first place
To get to the pool.
Now St. Augustine has taken over
The thin fenced in alleyway;
My weed whacker won’t fit
To take out our unbidden lawn
And my hand got stuck
When I poked it through.
I wanted to rip the grass
Right out of the ground.
The guy just sits in a lawn chair
And plays his guitar
While his dogs bark and bark and bark.
One cool evening they took a walk,
The bigger dog leading the way,
Tugging until they came to my house
And it could pee in my yard.
So I came out to say something.
I said, I’ve adopted a little boy
He’s two years old.
And he replied, drily, Yes. We know.
Thus the fence.
Todd Boss (Minnesota)
My High Horse
is always hard by,
cropping the gorse
and saddled. I’ve tried
to stay off him, but
having him there by my
side all the time
has me rattled. He’s
easily riled, a little bit
wild, and I’m the only one
he lets near. See there,
how merely my mention
of his name turns his
ears in the air. He’s bred
for the rail, the race,
the break from the herd.
Isn’t he magnificent—
his height, his pluck,
his play, his forceful
freight? And who am I
to make him wait?
Nay, get out of the way,
my tenderfoot friend,
you’re standing in
front of the gate—
Lisa Vihos (Wisconsin)
I am the one, the only one,
the one whose name you utter
under your breath when the wind
comes through, makes you shudder.
I am the one who lies down
in green pasture and my milk
flows like nectar beside the still water.
With me in your field, you shall not want.
I’ve kicked many a bucket and one swish
of my tail sends flies into orbit. Though I stand
in the muck and the mire, bound to grass,
to earth, to desire, I once jumped the moon,
remember? You came too, with your dreams
of a cat and a fiddle, a dish and a spoon.
Remember there was a little dog, full of sport,
who would not stop laughing at us?
Ned Balbo (Maryland)
A child’s vocation
A coffee can will shelter them in tin–
beads speed across bright metal. Punched with holes,
a snap-on lid. Mornings, 7 a.m.,
I hunt and gather, place wet grass within
as if to hoodwink compound eyes. Who rules
the sunlit, shadowed underbrush? It’s them—
instinct machines who leap, against the odds.
from sneaker-soles or rivals’ mandibles,
to lair or leaf. Ante meridiem,
what’s death? I guess, to fleeing arthropods,
C. Denby Swanson graduated from Smith College, the National Theatre Institute, and the University of Texas Michener Center for Writers, where she was a fellow in playwriting and screenwriting. She has been a Jerome Fellow, a William Inge Playwright in Residence, and a McKnight Advancement Grant recipient. Her work has been commissioned by the Guthrie Theater, 15 Head a Theatre Lab, Macalester College, and The Drilling Company, and featured in the Southern Playwrights Festival, the Women Playwrights Project, the Lark Theater’s Playwrights Week, PlayLabs, the WPA Festival at Salvage Vanguard, JAW: A Playwrights Festival at Portland Center Stage, and multiple residencies at New York Stage & Film. Her full length adaptation, “Atomic Farmgirl,” was developed by the Drilling Company, at the Culture Project’s Impact Festival and at the Icicle Creek Theatre Festival, and won a prize in the 2009 Earth Matters on Stage Festival at the University of Oregon. She won a 2008 Susan Smith Blackburn Special Prize for her short play “The Potato Feast,” which was also nominated for a 2008 New York Innovative Theater Award. Her blues play “Blue Monday” was developed at ZACH Theatre Center as part of the NEA/TCG National Theater Residency Program for Playwrights. She is a former Artistic Director of Austin Script Works and on the faculty at Southwestern University. Her work is published by Smith & Kraus, Heinemann, and Playscripts, Inc.
Todd Boss grew up on an 80-acre cattle farm in west central Wisconsin. His poetry collections are “Yellowrocket” (W. W. Norton, 2008) and “Pitch” (2012). His MFA is from the University of Alaska–Anchorage. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, The London Times, NPR, and “Best American Poetry.” In 2009, Virginia Quarterly named “Yellowrocket” one of the ten best poetry books of the year, and awarded Todd the Emily Clark Balch Prize. “Yellowrocket” was also selected as the Midwest Bookseller Association’s Honor Book for Poetry and was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award. “Panic,” Todd’s verse retelling of Knut Hamsun’s 1894 novella “Pan,” will premiere as a one-man opera in late 2013, arranged by Boston Conservatory’s Andy Vores. Todd is the founding co-director of Motionpoems, a poetry film initiative now collaborating with five important American literary publishers. Todd lives in north suburban Saint Paul with his wife and children.
Lisa Vihos has had her poems appear in Big Muddy, Goose River Anthology, Lakefire, Red Cedar, Seems, Verse Wisconsin, and Wisconsin People and Ideas. She has one Pushcart Prize nomination and one of her poems appears in the new anthology “Villanelles” (Everyman’s Library, 2012). Her first chapbook, “A Brief History of Mail” (Pebblebrook Press) appeared in 2011 and a second chapbook, “The Accidental Present,” will be out this summer from Finishing Line Press. She is an associate editor of Stoneboat literary journal and an occasional guest blogger for “The Best American Poetry” online. She lives in Sheboygan, Wisconsin with her teenage son. Aside from writing and working as the alumni director at Lakeland College, she loves Lake Michigan, cooking, movies, bicycling, listening to her son play guitar, and Zumba, not necessarily in that order.
Ned Balbo received the 2010 Donald Justice Prize, selected by A. E. Stallings, for The “Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems” (Story Line Press/WCU Poetry Center). His previous books are “Lives of the Sleepers” (Ernest Sandeen Prize, ForeWord Book of the Year Gold Medal) and “Galileo’s Banquet” (Towson University Prize). “Something Must Happen,” a chapbook, appeared from “Finishing Line Press.” He has received three Maryland Arts Council grants, the Robert Frost Foundation Award, and the John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize. He was featured poet in the Fall 2011/Winter 2012 Valparaiso Poetry Review; other recent poems appear in Iowa Review, RiverStyx, Sou’Wester, and elsewhere.