Submission Guidelines: Send unpublished poems in the body of an email (NO ATTACHMENTS) to nvneditor[at] No simultaneous submissions. Use "Verse News Submission" as the subject line. Send a brief bio. No payment. Authors retain all rights after 1st-time appearance here. Scroll down the right sidebar for the fine print.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


by Allan Johnston

                for Robinson Jeffers

From the tower he had built the poet
looked out on contingencies of oceans
and words, and reached through whiskey
and cigarettes toward understanding.
He was not far from the scene of disaster,
his and ours, and the underlying crystallized
fetish he drew from visions served
the way a careful teller is served
by spreading and backdating lending to hide
the paying out of small denominations,
a dry poem or a type of toad, the forests
turned into houses, tides of roads, the heavy
and overburdened atmosphere.
All need just be observable, reported,
leaned in on, as if one were at the banister
looking into the circles of hell
toward the great frozen lake, but instead
it was waving, the tightness gone out of it,
a loose death.  The wave was advancing,
a committee was reporting on extinctions,
warning of consequences from loss of species,
labeling what was called a way of life
as the culprit in demise.
And he watched it, sometimes conjuring
over a bowl of blood or a stone
as a prop in composing, watched the ways
death would fly in the room, as quiet
as a cat or a fog, come, vanish all,
lead into it, the nothingness of not
knowing, beyond the frame of every end
that would not change.  The blood drained; annihilation,
nihilism, each moment gleaming and crushed
as if by rigid stone, the social order spinning
into final chaotic survivalist
impulse, cracking the nut open, letting
the skull of the world ripple pointless
dreams of possession into phantom
realities, even as the end blossomed
in his thought.  Courage is not
in the air at such times, he thought, but requires
continuing into the light, recognizing
that it all teeters on the brink and shall
continue teetering, contingent, though thought
resist all that announces any
awareness of how it leans to collapse:
recognize, accept, understand at least once:
love our demise as we learn to foresee it.

Allan Johnston earned his M.A. in Creative Writing and his Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Davis.  His poems have appeared in over sixty journals, including Poetry, Poetry East, Rattle, and Rhino.  He is the author of one full-length poetry collection (Tasks of Survival, 1996) and a chapbook (Northport, 2010), and has received an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize nomination (2009), and First Prize in Poetry in the Outrider Press Literary Anthology competition (2010).  Originally from California, he now teaches writing and literature at Columbia College and DePaul University in Chicago.  He serves as a reader for Word River and for the Illinois Emerging Poets competition, and is the editor of the Journal for the Philosophical Study of Education.  His scholarly articles have appeared in Twentieth Century Literature, College Literature, and several other journals.