Today's poetry for today's world

Barbara Crooker


Barbara Crooker is the recipient of the 2007 Pen and Brush Poetry Prize, the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award, and the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award.  Her books are Radiance, which won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize, Line Dance published by Word Press in 2008 won the 2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence, and More was published in 2010 by C&R Press.  Crooker’s latest book is Gold, published by Cascade Books, 2013.  Her poetry has been read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac.  She has read in the Poetry at Noon series at the Library of Congress.




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We’re writing our names with sizzles of light
to celebrate the fourth. I use the loops
of cursive, make a big “B” like the sloping
hills on the west side of the lake. The rest,
little “a’s,” “r’s,” one small “b,” spit
and fizz as they scratch the night. On the side
of the shack where we bought them, a handmade
sign: Trailer Full of Sparkles Ahead,
and I imagine crazy chrysanthemums, wheels
of fire, glitter bouncing off metal walls.
Here, we keep tracing in tiny pyrotechnics
the letters we were given at birth, branding
them on the air. And though my mother’s name
has been erased now from the Book of Life,
I write her name, too: a big swooping "I",
a little hissing “s,” an “a” that sighs
like her last breath, and then I
ring “belle,” “belle,” “belle”
in the sulphuric smoky


from Gold (Cascade Books, 2013)






near the peanut butter.  He calls me ma'am, like the sweet
southern mother's boy he was.  This is the young Elvis,
slim-hipped, dressed in leather, black hair swirled
like a duck's backside.  I'm in the middle of my life,
the start of the body's cruel betrayals, the skin beginning
to break in lines and creases, the thickening midline.
I feel my temperature rising, as a hot flash washes over,
the thermostat broken down.  The first time I heard Elvis
on the radio, I was poised between girlhood and what comes next.
My parents were appalled, in the Eisenhower fifties, by rock
and roll and all it stood for, let me only buy one record,
"Love Me Tender," and I did.
       I have on a tight orlon sweater, circle skirt,
       eight layers of rolled-up net petticoats, all bound
       together by a woven straw cinch belt.  Now I've come
       full circle, hate the music my daughter loves, Nine
       Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Crash Test Dummies.
       Elvis looks embarrassed for me.  His soft full lips
       are like moon pies, his eyelids half-mast, pulled
       down bedroom shades.  He mumbles, "Treat me nice."
Now, poised between menopause and what comes next, the last
dance, I find myself in tears by the toilet paper rolls,
hearing "Unchained Melody" on the sound system.  "That's all
right now, Mama," Elvis says, "Anyway you do is fine."  The bass
line thumps and grinds, the honky tonk piano moves like an ivory
river, full of swampy delta blues.  And Elvis's voice wails above
it all, the purr and growl, the snarl and twang, above the chains
of flesh and time. 
from Radiance (Word Press, 2005)




for Rebecca 
Her hair, that halo of red gold curls,
has thickened, coarsened,
lost its baby fineness,
and the sweet smell of childhood
that clung to her clothes
has just about vanished.
Now she's getting moody,
moaning about her hair,
clothes that aren't the right brands,
boys that tease.
She clicks over the saxophone keys
with gritty fingernails polished in pink pearl,
grass stains on the knees
of her sister's old designer jeans.
She's gone from sounding like the smoke detector
through Old MacDonald and Jingle Bells.
Soon she'll master these keys,
turn notes into liquid gold,
wail that reedy brass.
Soon, she'll be a woman.
She's gonna learn to play the blues. 
from Line Dance (Word Press, 2008)
I hate milk chocolate, don't want clouds
of cream diluting the dark night sky,
don't want pralines or raisins, rubble
in this smooth plateau.  I like my coffee
black, my beer from Germany, wine
from Burgundy, the darker, the better.
I like my heroes complicated and brooding,
James Dean in oiled leather, leaning
on a motorcycle.  You know the color.
Oh, chocolate!  From the spice bazaars
of Africa, hulled in mills, beaten,
pressed in bars.  The cold slab of a cave's
interior, when all the stars
have gone to sleep.
Chocolate strolls up to the microphone
and plays jazz at midnight, the low slow
notes of a bass clarinet.  Chocolate saunters
down the runway, slouches in quaint
boutiques; its style is je ne sais quoi.
Chocolate stays up late and gambles,
likes roulette.  Always bets
on the noir.
from More (C&R Press, 2010)
Writer's Tip: I keep a book of quotes, and so some of these, by much more well-known writers, say what I think about writing (only they say it better): "Write to make sense of life." (Nadine Gordimer)  "Write what will stop your breath if you don't write." (Grace Paley)  "We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to."  (W. Somerset Maugham)  "There is no perfect time to write.  There is only now."  (Barbara Kingsolver)  "Write something somebody will want to read before they die." (Christopher Buckley)
Writing should be as necessary to life as oxygen, water, or bread.

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