Two Prose Poems by Mike James



Things I Hate

Things I hate mainly start with u. Things like newly upholstered umbrellas taking umbrage at the rain for doing what it does. Any ordinary person or day declaring herself unique. Special and different are matter-of-fact fine, but unique seems untucked from what is.

Of course, I make exceptions. I’m fine with whatever is ungainly. Even prefer it. And I have nothing against unicorns of saddled or unsaddled variety. If I were Ezra Pound, I would complain about usury. But I’m not. So I don’t. Borrowings don’t make me think of interest. Instead I think of theft. What starts as a favor, ends as a complaint. Such things don’t happen in utopias, but only princes live there. The plain world gets upturned more than twice a day. At any moment the sky might crack open with a new birth of tears.



Tribulations Down the Street From the Quickie Mart

So, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride into town and what are you doing, Mr. Sunshine, except licking a vanilla ice-cream cone and digging through your neighbor’s trash? Yesterday you were talking about all the things you wanted to do in the Falklands once winter vacation arrived. You planned to watch penguins and begin each day rousing your companion by singing God Save the Queen in the key of Sid Vicious. Now, all that will have to be postponed. And all the Horsemen have noisy and glittery spurs. It would be foolish to think they wouldn’t. And why is one playing a harmonica? And why does another have your name tattooed, with John Hancock style flourish, right above his heart? Each is busy doing what they came to do. And each is pretty good at it. Despite it all, that ice-cream is still delicious.



About the Author: Mike James has been widely published in magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His thirteen poetry collections include: Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has served as an associate editor for the Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press, as well as the publisher of the now defunct Yellow Pepper Press. He makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. More information can be found on his website at


More By Mike James:


Paul Lynde


Image Credit:Heart of the Turbine” Lewis W. Hine (1930) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program


First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places: An Interview With Poet Mike James

First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places:

An Interview With Poet Mike James

By Chase Dimock

When you read Mike James’ new book of poetry, you realize that the contradiction in the title is the intersection where his creativity dwells. For James, the most interesting subjects are those we either overlook and need to re-examine, or we deem impossible and thus need to invent. These are first-hand accounts, but Mike James has many hands. He is a cartographer of the margins, whether that means the almost-icons sitting just left of the spotlight, or the eccentricities in mainstream society you can only see if you look awry.

Take his series of poems on Grant Wood’s paintings for instance. In them, he teases out the subversive, frustrated eroticism embedded in the denim overalls of Americana. He writes about flamboyance and excess, but with an exactitude of language. At first, you think his ghazals and prose poems wander through their subjects, until you get to the destination, and then you realize he took you on a precisely planned path you had never seen on the maps. These are the made-up places we all live in, and Mike James knows the routes where the dirt roads glitter.

Chase Dimock: Anyone who has been following your work will notice that you have been extremely prolific lately with diverse interests in themes and forms. Last year, you published two books: My Favorite House Guest, a collection of prose poems about pop culture icons, and Crows in the Jukebox, which draws a lot on your family history with an almost minimalist use of language. Where does First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places fit into your evolution as a poet? How do its themes and forms reflect where you are as a writer and a man today?

Mike James: I have very broad tastes. I love jazz and disco, classical and country. I love action movies and documentaries. I mention this because it’s applicable in how I approach my writing. I’m always interested in what I haven’t done and I tend to really run with my passions. The musicians I truly love (Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Arthur Russell, David Bowie) all work/worked with a wide variety of styles. That’s how I approach my writing. So many of the poets who really interest me are ones who don’t have a settled “house style”, but instead work with an expansive scope.

The new collection is divided into three different sections. The first section is a sequence of ghazals. That’s a form I’ve tinkered with for years. The ghazals were the catalyst for this collection. I wrote the sequence in order, excluding the poems I discarded, with the idea that chronology would impose a structure.

The second section is mainly free verse, mostly centered on the work of Grant Wood. The final section is prose poems which are not, mainly, pop culture centered in the way that the poems in My Favorite Houseguest are.  Prose poems are wonderful because they are so liberating in regards to subject matter and expectations. I feel like I’m a different poet when I’m writing prose poems. My prose poems tend to be a more absurdist and chattily surreal.

The new collection provides an overview of my current interests in both subject matter and technique. These poems, I hope, show a comfort level with a wide variety of themes and with a wide range of technique. On a very personal level, the biggest difference between the work I’m doing now and the work I did ten years ago is that I’m much more willing to embrace failure and to follow any squirrel up any tree.  My subjects are more open and more varied now. I’ve let go of the old concepts of the kind of poet I want to be. These days, I enjoy writing more than ever before. I’m certainly much more relaxed about the wrong turns I take. I hope that joy transfers to the reader. Continue reading “First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places: An Interview With Poet Mike James”

Two Prose Poems

William P. Gottlieb “Billie Holiday at the Downbeat Club”


Two Prose Poems

By Mike James


That One Singer

Seems to know your life…How you lift yourself, just a little, from your seat when she reaches up past the ceiling, the roof, the trees, up near that first cloud to hit a high note…Or how you almost brace for a train to thunder by when she growls down and down with low ones…It’s like she looked out the window, for no good reason, the night you got your first streetlight kiss…As if she knows how you got that knee scrape from belt buckle dodging at ten…


Beyond The Land Of Misfit Toys

Drop that bucket into the memory well and it’s never what you wish. You pull up clown porn. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Shot glasses serve as telescopes to galaxies you’d rather not see. Even one night stands, much heralded in the movies, offer minimum relief. Every woman you end up with wears heels or boots you desire more than her. You beg to be her carpet, her footstool, her bath mat. If the question is lust, the answer is confusion. You look at every closet and hope for big locks. More than the butterfly you love the butterfly tattoo.


About the Author:  Mike James is the author of eleven poetry collections. His most recent books include: Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He has previously served as associate editor for both The Kentucky Review and Autumn House Press. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his large family and a large assortment of cats.

Renée Ashley: A Micro-Interview and Three Poems


Renée Ashley is the author of five volumes of poetry and a novel. Her awards include a Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Kenyon Review Award for Literary Excellence, the Charles Angoff Award from The Literary Review, an American Literary Review Poetry Prize, The Robert Watson Literary Prize in Poetry from Greensboro Review, a Black Warrior Review Poetry Award, the Chelsea Poetry Award, The Open Voice Award in Poetry from the Writers Voice, West Side Y, NY, NY, and the Robert H. Winner Award and the Ruth Lake Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. She has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and has received fellowships in both poetry and prose from New Jersey State Council on the Arts as well as a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment of the Arts. She teaches in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MFA in Creative Writing and the MA in Creative Writing and Literature for Educators.

The poems reprinted below are from Because I am the Short I Want to Be the Sea, published by Subito Press.


Okla Elliott: The poems in Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea are largely prose poems, with a few pieces that break into lineation of a sort. The syntax and punctuation for the poems are idiosyncratic to this project as well. How did you happen upon or decide on these formal aspects of the book?
Renée Ashley: I’d been wanting to write prose poems for a couple of years and couldn’t make a go of it. It took me a long time to figure out what worked for me. Conventional punctuation gave the poems too many stops, too much air, too many moments for the reader to think and/or react. I wanted a feeling of claustrophobia, of speed trapped inside a sealed vessel—as though the reader were locked inside my head with me. So, over time, terminal punctuation, except for question marks and exclamation points, was done away with, and I imposed an extreme sort of compression on the poems. I needed pressure on both the breath and the meting out of sound and content to achieve a sense of profluence, but also one of embeddedness, density, and restraint, all of those at the same time—meaning I wanted the sound and content to press outwardly against the rigid margins but then be visually forced back again at the point at which each poem’s real estate abruptly ended. Whether or not I achieved what I was after, I don’t know. But that was the ideal I had in mind.

OE: The vast majority of the poems have a similar structure and the same titling tactic, along with several other similarities, yet the book remains fresh throughout. What little tricks or tactics did you use to create variation between the poems?
RA: I’m so glad you think the pieces remain fresh–what a disaster if they hadn’t! It wasn’t something I consciously considered—well, no more than I would for any other gathering of my poems. Each poem or poem section has its own engine (an image, a rhythm) that drives it forward and conjures association and consequence. I’m very aware that my thematic issues are few, so I try to let image and angle of approach propel the flow of the articulation. I did fiddle with title tactics a lot and titles-as-titles didn’t work; they were too loud, too directive. Too there. The combination of the brackets and lower case seemed to hush them, make them seem tacked-on rather than an integral part of the working bodies of the poems; that’s what I wanted, a sort of whisper, a suggestion softly heard.

OE: Okay, I’m going to go lofty and abstract here. If there were one thing you could change about the current literary landscape, what would it be? Imagine you have total power and no limitations for this wish.
RA: Ah, bigger than a breadbox! You must understand that a big issue for me is deciding whether or not to use a semicolon… or whether or not to get out of bed on any given day.
But the first thing that comes to mind is that all really great writing could find a suitable venue for publication. (And, selfishly, that I would have time to read it—but, I know: that’s two wishes.) It’s a good wish, huge, really, though also small, I admit, in the face of the power you’ve offered me. But as I said, I’m not a thinker-in-grand-scales. I’m a punctuation-sized-thinker or open-my-eyes-sized-thinker. I’d make a terrible politician. Wait … wait … Maybe my wish should be that great writers aren’t beaten down by circumstances that discourage them so that they would keep writing and reach some ultimate work they might not have otherwise achieved … but then again that difficulty and/or discouragement that I relieve them of may have turned out to be the exact source of push-back that would have powered their definitive articulation. Never mind. I probably shouldn’t dabble in others’ affairs anyway; I can barely manage my own. We’ll all do what we do. I’m going to have to go with door number one.


[once quickly (quietly)]

The rough black sky then the lid of morning opens There’s a pure yellow light buried in the toad’s eye and the mute swan’s plodding through shallow water The snake is dangling from his myrtle tree and the sun rests—curled like a gilded cat—on the ledge of the sky The wild collation begins again Moon and the syntax of stars The turning on their silver pivots But the blades overhead are dividing the air And the light remains whole despite that There can be nothing ordinary about the ordinary Monstrous when the dark thing takes its place Then approaching that one grain of joy on the tongue: that place of beginning of all things able to climb the ladder named Assumption And all that was dead is dead again The horrible dreams return We are the restless unlovliest animal Hours of penitence Hours of rain like a beating Two instants of holy permutation Things come to you and you use them


[café des quatres vents]

It’s only a postcard Nothing about the wind knocking debris to the curb No hint about the heart We are the act of consequence – figure and profile Every thing is fatal and we suffer the world and its waters Somebody will always object and we grieve for those living hard amidst these shifting miracles Right now is when I love you That world is only darkness Our place is in those small lights It’s best to be clear


[I run to the sad man in the white car and]

This is a different gun reader than you have heard about before From me This is a different tragedy The man in the white car is weary of sorrow weary the way a woman becomes weary of a man Or of her life (Or of a satchel which might contain the whole history a whole of sorrow’s vestige) This man is learning the gun: singed wing orphan rare bird Sorrow can fly and a gun can fly and a shot And time. But time is simply metaphor here & hardly a metaphor at all Not flying Dragging a busted wing dragging its bitter (Like a satchel) Dragging its stark and dragging its bleak dragging its heavy its carcass its blasted-out carrion heart