Meet Mike James

Today begins my month-long series celebrating National Poetry Month. Monday through Friday I’ll introduce you to a poet I know and whose work I enjoy. I asked each of my guest poets the same two questions and their answers are as varied as their poetry. It’s been so much fun reading each one’s journey to becoming a poet. As I wrote in my previous post, if the last time you’ve read poetry was in your high school English class, then you’re in for a surprise.

I first met Mike several years ago when someone suggested him as a Feature Reader for a monthly poetry and prose reading, Afternoon of Poetry and Prose. Mike is one of those people you instantly feel like you’ve known forever and is down-to-earth good. He’s served as an associate editor of Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press, as the publisher of Yellow Pepper Press, and as the Waneta T. Blake Visiting Professor at the University of Maine, Fort Kent. He’s the author of thirteen poetry collections, his most recent was just released in time for National Poetry Month, Leftover Distances, (Luchador Press).

I like Mike’s poetry because of how he grounds the reader in strong images, yet invites us to look inward. His book, My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle Press) welcomes visitors like John Wayne, J.R Ewing, Marilyn Monroe, Nixon, Andy Warhol and a host of others, and leaves little snapshots of people we imagine we know.

The poems I’m sharing today, with Mike’s permission, are from his collection, Crows in the Jukebox, published by Bottom Dog Press. I chose the first one because he so well describes where our ideas comes from, a question poets and writers are often asked. I thought it perfect for starting off National Poetry Month. (Titles of poems are bolded.)

So here’s Mike!

  1. Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote? How old were you? What was it about? 

I have some vague memory of writing my first poem as a middle school student. It was really just a collection of poorly rhymed clichés. I really got into poetry when I was 15 and started reading seriously. Although I developed a writing routine pretty early, my reading routine was always much more successful than my writing routine. I took Pound’s quote, “I knew at 15 pretty much what I wanted to do,” as a roadmap. The first poem I actually remember writing and keeping was in college. It was a love poem about watching someone wash dishes and was later published in Tar River Poetry. The kind and thoughtful acceptance letter I received gave me an idea of how good editors can encourage new and unknown poets.

2.   If you could share a cup of coffee or tea, or raise a glass of wine with any poet, living or deceased, whom would it be?    

That’s a hard question. There are so many poets of the great dead I never had a chance to meet that I’d love to have met: Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Stephen Jonas, Louise Bogan, Paul Blackburn, Anne Sexton, Alfred Starr Hamilton, Paul Dunbar, James Laughlin, Edna Millay, Charles Olson, Kenneth Rexroth, Tim Dlugos, and Gwendolyn Brooks. That’s a very modern and very quick list. If I were to pick one poet from all of history, it would have to be Samuel Johnson. I have over 20 biographies of the great man. I go back to his poems and his essays and (of course!) his dictionary every year and I’m always refreshed by his strength and his wisdom. He was often wrong-headed, but he was never dull.

Inspiration (In Response To A Questionnaire)

i don’t know where it comes from

it might fall out of a dark cloud

come down heavy and biblical

a soupy mix of frogs and locusts

or (keeping in the same vein)

it might rise out of nowhere

a dust cloud

fast across the desert

or, better yet, might speak clearly

out of a dry bush, brittle as old age

there are things i need

steady as sleep

the time I spend, each day, staring

at a certain spot on the wall

my daily practice keeps a tingle

in my fingertips

keeps tension from settling

on my left shoulder too long

if I show up, stare real regular

sometimes the frogs and locusts appear

other times the spot stays a spot on the wall

now and then it becomes a bush and it calls

Wild Apples

so, here i am gathering apples

behind a neighbor’s foreclosed house

andy and lauren moved away last year

the house, bank owned and empty since

over the years, this tree grew (untended,

accidental) in the corner of their acre lot

in the part of the yard they left

to weeds and shrubs and never cut

it takes at least eight years to grow a tree

so full of knotty, spotted, sour green apples

my grandfather called these horse apples

they grew wild in pastures he once knew

the fattest ones are the highest, near the sun

no horse could reach those

with my ladder and a paper grocery bag

i’ll get enough for two pies

one for me and another for a neighbor

out of work, but still in her house

since sometimes dessert comes before the meal

as grace can come in the harvest of wild things

Mike James ~ Crows in the Jukebox

Available through Bottom Dog Press

Leftover Distances from Luchador Press, available from Barnes and Noble

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2 Responses to Meet Mike James

  1. I really enjoyed reading this! Thanks!

  2. Thank you Roberta! I love doing this this series. I can’t do it every year, but when I can I enjoy reading all the books – often for the second or third time – and especially getting to know a bit more about each poet. Their answers really are varied – as you’ll see as the month continues – and give a little insight into the poet’s personality. Enjoy! I look forward to your highlight too.
    ~ Kim

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