Thursday, June 11, 2009

Featured Poet #2

Five Poems From Harry Calhoun

Rescued from nightmares
My dog, my wife, salvation

big black dog
curled onto his white fleecy bed
like a black nautilus
virginal as a pale rose and
tightly wound but not a care

but to sleep
the black devil outside
his magic circle wanders
sometimes through my dreams
but he is always there

beside me to protect me
with tooth and claw loyalty
and my wife with her gentle hand
on my arm, arm
dipped in nightmare

but pulled back
just in time to
the magic circle,
where I am protected, safe and
I join my dog

in his contented sleep
gentle dozing breaths

for a while

Relationship noir, A/C

I drive out for Chinese as dark
turns the day into the burnt caramel
crust of a flan. Ten minutes, phone say.

Headlights just barely necessary
but she has the porch lights torched
in case I’m late. The ten minutes

it takes Chinese to cook and electricity
are two mysteries I choose
not to delve into too deeply;

I like to think my meat and chicken
are born at the market and wrapped
into a package and electricity is a god

that you feed light bulbs. The Chinese
have their ancient secrets
instead of moldy leftover warmed-over scraps

thrown into a wok. I surge home
through the dawning of darkness
feeling like a magical egg roll wrapped in happiness

dancing home to you tonight, as if
egg rolls can dance, and it’s all about
you and me and somebody else cooking

and most of all as the porch lights
shine on my old red car filled with Chinese
and a happy me, our


A new use for beer goggles

when I was young we used to call it beer goggles
the phenomenon that women viewed through the filter
of enough alcohol and in a dark enough bar
became increasingly attractive

I wrote a poem embarrassingly recently
that was so incomprehensible
that I titled it “What the fuck is this?”
but yesterday I had a beer and a snifter of brandy

and read it again in my dimly lit bedroom
and I’ll be damned if the horrible thing
didn’t make perfect sense to me
so besides functioning in dark bars

beer goggles come in handy
making sense of bad poetry and
(I realize this is why I drink)

making sense of life

Who the fuck is Dave Church?

30 years in the small-press scene
with Bukowski and Locklin and Richmond and Androla
and so many others blipping onto my radar

like flying saucer tombstones
the names, the poems the power
to appear on the screen and stick

in the mind and suddenly, apparently
Dave Church has died and poems and essays
and whole chapbooks appear in his honor

and I am embarrassed because this old man
with a knick-knack paddy-whack let old Dave
fly under the radar … I think a few times

we shared space in a few forgettable mags,
but I didn’t remember him until I heard he died.
Unlike Lorri Jackson, whom I rubbed elbows with

a few times back in 1989 before her suicide,
or D.A. Levy or Cynthia Cahn — had to bring her up
because she is a non-breather too, and you may not have heard.

But anyway, sorry, Dave, I know Tony Klein the Key West
taxi-driving poet but I never knew you
until too late. I read you now and salute you

and maybe someday in an act of divine retribution
somebody will write a poem called
“Who the fuck is Harry Calhoun?”

I hope so. Good luck,
unknown soldier,
wherever you are.

Rejoice, the new life, the reliever

like Dennis Eckersley, a career starting pitcher,
become the perfect reliever
oh-sixty-one E.R.A. in 1990 at age 35

let’s close this down right: here I come
with the high hard one, the occasional knuckle ball
and the curve flirting with the fringes

of the strike zone, here I come
like a whore sweet-talking an easy trick
and sure, occasionally I get roughed up,

rejected, sent to the showers
but always with my head held high
like the bare-knuckled boxer

with blood on his hands
try and stop me, age, rejection, failure
try and stop me now that I am back

in the game
and approaching

the top of my form

Biography Note:

Harry Calhoun’s articles, literary essays, book reviews and poems have been published in magazines including Writer’s Digest and The National Enquirer. Recently, his online chapbook Dogwalking Poems went live at The Dead Mule. His trade paperback, I knew Bukowski like you knew a rare leaf, is now available from Trace Publications. He has had recent publications in Chiron Review, Still Crazy, SNReview, Abandoned Towers, Dante’s Heart, Yippee!, Neonbeam, LiteraryMary, Word Catalyst and many others, with more upcoming.

Q @ A with Harry Calhoun

CH: How long have you been writing and why did you start in the first place?

HC: I’ve been writing ever since I learned to write. I remember back in third and fourth grade I would write plays for my classmates and me to perform. I also wrote some poetry, mostly lousy poetry, back in high school and college. But it took me a while to get to writing as a career and vocation. I was a history major in college and initially my intention was to go to law school. When that didn't work out, I was left thinking, “What can I do with a history degree?”

I fancied myself the great American novelist and short fiction writer. Unfortunately, I have the attention span of a fruit fly on crack and usually can’t sustain a plot to save my soul. But I did find that I could write and sell articles and book reviews, so for a number of years I freelanced. I wrote resumes and cover letters. I edited a magazine for the housing industry. And in one of the biggest breaks of my career, I discovered that I could write marketing copy for ad agencies. That has been the rock of my income ever since.

As far as the poetry goes? I picked that up again in my mid-20s, inspired by a certain young lady and the fact that I wasn’t half-bad at it. I started getting poems and literary essays published in small-press magazines starting in 1980 or so. I had a long lull from the late ‘90s until 2007 when I wrote few poems and shared those few with a few select magazines. I stuck mostly to writing marketing copy, my core job.

Then, in 2007, my mother died. My wife and I bought a beautiful black Labrador named Alex. And I started listening to my wife’s exhortations to write more poetry. So in early 2008, I began using poetry as therapy to work through my mom’s death. I started composing whole poems in my head while on long walks with Alex. And I had my wife’s encouragement, so I was off to the races. You can check out my Web site … I just did a quick count and my work has appeared in at least 35 different magazines from January 2008 until June 2009. And I have appeared in multiple issues of some of those magazines, such as Chiron Review, Abbey, Shoots and Vines and Word Catalyst.

There’s a great interview with me, conducted by fellow writer Trina Allen, who also happens to be my wife! If you Google it, you’ll find that it has been published all over the Internet, even translated (usually badly). Here is its original appearance in Thunder Sandwich:

CH: Who or what were your inspirations?

HC: The interview talks about them. Harlan Ellison, the fantasy writer; Charles Bukowski, the poet and fiction writer; and M.S. Merwin, who has written some of the most beautiful, mystical, powerful poetry around. Oh, and Henry Miller and Ray Bradbury. There's a Georgia poet named Christopher Cunningham that I've been reading a lot lately.

I do read a great deal of poetry in general — Bukowski, Leo Connellan and Jim Daniels are some of my favorites. But I have an unfair advantage over most people out there. I review books for Chiron Review, mostly poetry and editor Michael Hathaway is very generous. Just last week, he sent me a big box with a dozen or more books and a note that said, “Review what you want and just keep the rest.” I’ve been reading poetry every day since, some of it very good, some not. But reading it inspires me to write and plus I sometimes find something that I can steal and make my own. :-) (Yes, writers, this is not only permissible but desirable. Remember the words of T.S. Eliot: “Mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal.”)

CH: What would you say is the hardest thing about writing?

HC: Putting your butt on the seat of the chair. After that, it gets easier. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine the best way to say something or to convey your message, but that usually works out over time.

CH: What advice would you give to a new writer who is struggling to find his or her identity?

HC: In the immortal words of Charles Bukowski (written on his tombstone): “Don’t think”. Now, I don’t mean not to think about what you’re trying to say or how to say it. But don’t think your concept to death or try to force it … that has resulted in far more mental paralysis and uncertainty than good poetry. Just get it down on paper and don’t judge it. If it’s good or if it’s bad, you can rewrite as extensively as you want. But I write whole poems that I totally scrap. No big deal. Just don’t think about it and move on. You’ll write some good ones and bad ones. We all do.

And don’t spend time worrying about rejection. You know what it means when I submit 12 poems to a magazine and they all get rejected? It means that I’ve been given back 12 poems that I can submit to other magazines! What a gift — I don’t even have to spend time writing new ones. I just look for places that I think would like the 12 rejects and resubmit them.

One of my other “trick s” is going through poems that don’t work and finding parts of them that do work. Just recently, I tooked at one of my poems that I thought dragged a little but had a great ending. I took the last six lines or so, tweaked them a bit, and submitted it to a magazine that takes short poems.

So, don’t think, and just keep plugging away. Read poetry. When you find someone whose style you like, read a lot of that poet. Some of that style will inevitably rub off on you. And the more you write, the better you become. (Of course, if you have no talent, all bets are off, but I’m assuming that you do have talent.)


  1. Harry, I adore your work. Every time I read it I feel like I am filled with wisdom and love and heartache, everything that makes poetry what it should be. Your voice is your own, which is what captured me from the first moment I read your work. My copy of 'I knew Bukowski like you knew a rare leaf' just arrived today. Can't wait to dig in.

    Good eye for featured Harry, Callused Hands. He is on my list of fine poets.

    Crystal Folz
    Shoots and Vines

  2. Greta poems here, especially appreciate the dog/wife one.

    Very wise words about rejection too. Fuck 'em. Like you say, the poems are free again. A lot of people complain about it, but that's very cowardly, you have the right attitude.