Presenting engagements (including reviews) of poetry books & projects. Some issues also offer Featured Poets, a "The Critic Writes Poems" series, and/or Feature Articles.

Saturday, May 2, 2015



missing the kisses of eloquence by Michael Dennis
(GSPH, Ontario, Canada, 1994)

Coming Ashore on Fire by Michael Dennis
(Burnt Wine Press, Ottawa, Canada, 2009)

Some poets you admire for their talent and technique. Other poets you respect for their humanity. Michael Dennis is a poet who is the whole large thing, head, heart, talent and goodness. I admire and love his work, and I love him as a person. For Dennis is that rare bird in poetry world: a good, kind person.

Don’t take my word for it. Read his poems. Read his poetry review blog,, where Dennis publishes reviews of poetry books with such great art, I mean heart, I mean both art and heart. Dennis’ work should be taken wholly and completely. Whether in prose or verse Michael Dennis’ goodness shines forth. The two books under review are published 15 years apart. No matter. They are written by the same large spirit with a style that is ageless.

For Michael Dennis is a domestic bohemian. The subjects of his poems are often about travel, quotidian experiences, work that we do for money, his long and happy marriage, and the ordinary fumbles of living in this world as a thinking human being. I will treat these books under review as a single work. If that may not be fair to the individual books I make up for treating Dennis’ poetry as a totality. As the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva said, some poets have history and some poets do not. Michael Dennis, as far as I have read his work, does not have history. He began writing with full force and great maturity.  The only change I can tell is that his earlier work was often printed lower-case and unpunctuated. Later poems stay unpunctuated but have standard capitalization. But all of his poetry have the same warmth, humor and humility.

Take this poem for example

          the smartest person on the street

         walking my short legged walk down main street
          and thinking about nothing but the weather
          it is fall, my favorite season
          except when it is winter, spring or summer
          i enjoy the edge in the air
          and the hot sun in the cool sky
          the streets are busy with no end
          to the nickle and dimers standing on corners
          making their sad faces and small change transactions

          i cross from one corner to another
          and a woman almost my age
          turns to ask for what i can spare
          the words barely out of her mouth when she smiles
          and without a trace of malice
          “hell, you’re not rich, are you”
          in a rhetorical way
          and she is right
          i am wearing old boots that are cracked
          but still warm and comfortable
          they are sixteen years old

          and have done me well
          i’m hoping for at least one more season
          my pants are clean but have some paint stains
          i live with a painter
          and sometimes help him in his studio
          my jacket is out of fashion
          but it fits me fine with good big pockets
          because they are the best
          i am wearing a beret
          even though some don’t like it
          i started wearing it years ago
          and my poor fat head feels naked without it

          i am not insulted and she knows that too
          if i had money i’d pass some on
          and she seems to understand
          instead we share a smile and the weather
          she turns to more important business

          i keep walking

Here is the delight of the poet who loves fall, but winter, summer and spring too. He shares poverty with the subject of the poem but I would call it a cosmic poverty like the poverty of a saint. For both the speaker and the subject knows what it takes to survive in this world but they also know it does not take money to be rich in health and experience.  To exist is more than enough of such riches.

Michael Dennis’ poetry is mostly narrative. He is a wonderful storyteller. If you look for it on youtube you can find the poet reading ‘The Hockey Poem” that is a masterpiece of performance. You will also crack a rib from laughing hard for the poem is that funny.

As I age I value generosity and kindness as the greatest values. One does not need to be nice to be a good writer but for me practicing goodness and good writing are inseparable.  When Michael Dennis gives advice to younger poets he says, “I tell them that writing isn’t as important/as being a good person.” Which shocks in its declarative simplicity. It shouldn’t. Poetic myth of the last two hundred years or so elevates the selfish and the greedy. Dennis is destroying that myth. 

Another great theme of Dennis’ poetry is the happy marriage. Why should that be so strange? For health and happiness are standard bearers for civilization and are not incompatible with poetry.

          summer windows

          putting up plastic over summer windows
          i sentence our chimes to a winter’s silence
          in an attempt to reduce the onslaught
          of what snow, wind and rain can do
          it is an act of maturity unimagined
          in the dreams i dreamt in my youth
          i notice dust under furniture
          and remember to take meat out of the fridge
          we are attempting to have a child
          like everyone else we imagine
          we can undo our childish pain
          in the perfection of a new born
          unclear, unfocussed, untainted
          a life to mold with our perfect kindness
          and our un-realized dreams
          we monitor the geography of my wife’s body
          marking each month a season
          framed by the blood of a promise
          we think in the future tense
          during the moments we consider children
          the rest of the time
          my wife does her work
          and i do mine
          some nights we dine with friends
          we watch movies, dance
          the housework gets done
          along with the waiting
          responsibility closes in like the weather
          irrevocable, irresistible, undeniable
          feared and cherished

The stress of domestic life is welcomed along with its pleasures. These are quiet triumphs of spirit. A domestic bohemia. 

Here is another poem of love in a long marriage

          this simple life

          it is ten forty P.M. on a Sunday
          my wife is snoring
          in our marriage bed
          earlier tonight, while playing Scrabble
          she made me laugh out loud
          she was in denial
          farting loudly 
          denying louder

          we had our first BBQ
          of the season tonight
          nothing fancy
          as there is still snow on the ground
          steak with an Argentinean red

          earlier today she went to yoga
          on her way home
          bought our groceries for the week
          we have been married a long time
          but not long enough for me

          in time
          I’ll be able to say it properly
          how I find her finer than air
          more necessary
          to my breathing

“[W]e have been married a long time/but not long enough for me.”  beautiful! 

Finally, Michael Dennis is a poet of the elements. His metaphysics are grounded in the things he can touch, taste, see and feel. Love for him is a physical law. Goodness is a fundamental human right. For these qualities, and so much more, I deeply love and admire this poet. 


richard lopez was born in the summer of love in a hospital where the late poet/short story writer raymond carver worked as a janitor.  current projects include a collaboration with the poet lars palm and co-editing an anthology of demotic haiku with this partner in rhyme jonathan hayes.  he published poems, essays, interviews and reviews in, among others, corditejacket and dwang

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