In the (imaginary) movie version of my new novel, What’s Left, who would you cast as Cassia’s great-grandmother Dida and her sister Athina?

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers.


As humans, each of us assumes a cluster of identities – some of them chosen and changeable, others immutable. My grandfather, for example, proclaimed himself Dayton’s Leading Republican Plumber, invoking a host of other identities as well: Mason, Protestant, Middle Class, Married. I don’t think “grandfather” was high up in his awareness. Being male or female or teenage or elderly, on the other hand, are simply givens. And the history of what we’ve done or failed to do cannot be altered, except in our own perceptions and retelling.

The range of identities is astounding. They include but are not limited to race, religion, nationality and locality, occupation, family (household and near kin to genealogy itself), education and educational institutions, athletics, hobbies and interests, actions and emotions, even other individuals we admire, from actors and authors to athletes, politicians, and historic figures. They soon extend to the people we associate with – family, friends, coworkers, neighbors. And, pointedly, our phobias and possessions.

Curiously, it becomes easier to say what we are not than what we are specifically. That is, set out to define yourself in the positive and you’ll find the list rapidly dwindling, while an inexplicable core remains untouched. Turn to the oppositions, however, and the list becomes endless. I am not, for instance, a monkey. Sometimes, moreover, a specified negative becomes truly revealing: “I am not a crook,” for instance, as the classic revelation.

Listen carefully – especially when others talk of their romantic problems or other troubles – and another portion of a mosaic appears. This collection of poems builds on such moments, constructing a cross-section of community like a web of each one of its members. Sometimes, a place appears; sometimes, a contradiction; sometimes, a flavor or sound or color. Even so, in this crossfire, then, we may be more alike than any of us wishes to admit. We may be more like the part we deny, as well. Our defenses wither. Our commonality and our essential loneliness are both revealed.


For my Village of Gargoyles poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.


Behind the masks of public life – our occupations, religious affiliations, social status, economic positions, family connections, educational accomplishments, and so on – each of us engages in another struggle, an attempt to find inner balance and direction for our own life. As we do so, we soon face a plethora of interior and exterior forces that must be reconciled. We get glimmers into this struggle – both within ourselves and within others – in statements that begin “I am” and “I am not,” as well as “I have been,” which recognizes the history and habits we accumulate and carry with us. There are also the voices – “he remembers” or “she insists” – that also recur in our lives, defining and redefining ourselves both within, as conscience or the angel or devil on our shoulders, and without, as any of a host of authority figures and friends or family members.


Village of Gargoyles

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.


Somewhere in writing poetry I turned to the concept of “working in series.” Quite simply, this meant investigating a subject repeatedly, often in a similar form. The process allowed multiple takes from different angles and in different lighting, as it were. In music, it could be seen as a theme and variations.

As I recall, the practice for me originated with Braided Double-Cross, itself inspired by The Sonnets by Ted Berrigan, and quickly led to Blue Rock and Long Stemmed Roses in a Shattered Mirror, each with its unique structure and inspiration. (Anne Waldman, for the former; Diane Wakoski, the latter.)

Village of Gargoyles is the latest, often with a specific structure for each of the 10 sections. Some forms run longer than others, which introduces variety. And within each, I’m free to play and tinker.

Admittedly, the 200 poems of my Village fall short of John Berryman’s colossal Dream Songs, but it’s still a prolific output.


For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.



How truly does anyone know himself or herself, much less others, in the end? The poems in Village of Gargoyles spring from experiments in self-identification that spread into human interactions.

While many of the individuals within this collection are identified by occupation, their confessions typically reflect the more intimate concerns of their lives – relationships, activities, even the weather. These are, then, overheard snippets more than public proclamations.

What began as an exercise in self-definition breaks out nonetheless into an entire spectrum of personalities. Do we know any of these people? Or are they somehow eluding us, masked by the bits that are revealed? Those we recognize, moreover, happen by accident – none of these are portraits of actual people, as the disclaimer would go, but rather the inventions of the poet’s imagination and craft.

Chaucer had his pilgrims. I have my village.

Like an actor, you’re invited to slip into each of these 200-plus characters.

Tell me. What makes a community?


Village of Gargoyles

To see the full collection, simply click here.