I heard about Terry Spohn and his poetry long before I had a chance to read any of his poems. Mutual friends in a longstanding and ongoing poetry workshop in California kept raving about this poet, new to the workshop, and his high-energy poems. When I finally read a poem or two of Terry’s, I understood about all the buzz.
Terry’s had a career as a book editor and, for several years now, he’s been one of the regional editor of San Diego Poetry Annual. He’s a baseball enthusiast who not only listens to major-league baseball on his car radio but also plays competitive ball on a community (and regional) team. In person, Terry always is ready to contribute his quick wit and thoughtful kindness.
Terry Spohn holds a Master of Fine Arts from the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa and lives in Escondido, California. His short fiction, prose poems and poetry have appeared in Rattle, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Mobius: the Magazine of Social Change, Ascent, Mississippi Review, North American Review, Oyster Boy Review, numerous anthologies, and other places.
Here are two of his published poems:
And I asked myself about the present:
how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.
I was making a movie in a suburb
in a grocery store in a housewife’s dream
I was holding a cardboard megaphone and a clipboard
somewhere an empty chair was waiting
the housewife had known me once
long ago, better than I had known myself
she pushed her cart down the condiment aisle
one front wheel fidgeting
like an idiot prince at his birthday party
on the tasting table Barwell’s Pickled Beets
the color of Grandfather’s lung
sat untouched in their delicate paper cups
the housewife kept a list
clenched tightly in her fist
if it fell and unrolled
it could reach all the way into her next marriage
the canned vegetable aisle was veined
with cables and heavy plugs wrapped in black tape
like the ground at church carnivals
this was as close as the woman
had been to me in years
she moved up and down the narrowing aisles
while the cart filled up with children
I could almost touch her in her sleep
could almost wake her
I had memorized the script
that could almost free her
but I was busy changing it
the movie would run backwards, all right
all the children disappearing
creamed corn bursting from cans
and flowing back through factories
and into the sun, and we would all soon begin
to forget, as we came out of the theater
squinting in the startling daylight
who, exactly, we had come here with
and which of these bright, new cars was ours
Terry Spohn –from Rattle #35, Summer 2011
her hair a nest built by mourning doves
Grandma took the coat money from the humidor
I don't know why it is
there's always a problem in families
in a cinder-block building in Hugo, Minnesota
a single mother in a purple sweatshirt
coils springs for cluster bombs
children fall like leaves behind the water tower
it's time to forgive ourselves
we can't sleep through the night anymore
time to pluck that taut wire beside the heart
beneath the smokestacks of silence
our unbeautiful dead keep mum in the trees
eyes like cold lanterns adrift on a vast black river
while our fancies ply their dismal trade
on the far side of the mountain
none of us will return from anywhere
none of us has set down the glass and thought
this is what I have to do right now
smoke's been rising from the peat bog
another war bangs away just out of sight
young girls in their pleated skirts
learn to kiss beside the bike path
practicing on one another
-from Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Vol. 23, #1
And here are two unpublished poems by Terry Spohn
(Because of the long lines, and to keep the line breaks, "Goodbye, Ohio, Illinois" is printed in smaller type):
Goodbye, Ohio, Illinois
Can let you down
Quicker than a
--Burma Shave, Highway 30, east of Dixon, Illinois
come back for a funeral and one last look, they're here for you.
You know how it is, Ohio. Either your children go down
the Cherry mine and never come home, or they come back from college
with funny ideas, or from Mendota with a bad marriage and a black eye,
and you wonder why they left in the first place. Then the Burlington Dinky
disappears, tracks and all, the way a dead skunk does--bit by bit,
but the grandfather clocks keep ticking, keep ticking, ticking,
and the grandfathers with their gold-rimmed front teeth
and White Owl cigars rock on the porches, spitting,
listening to the White Sox on their two-knob Crosley radios,
and Doc O'Malley's oxygen tent makes the rounds up so many
flights of creaky stairs, while Grandmother sits in the parlor
watching Queen For a Day and all that self-cleaning country
light in your rippled windows spills onto the doilies.
Or, it's 1929 and your streets are oiled to keep down the dust clouds
when here comes the Graf Zeppelin with its 12-cylinder Maybach pushers
yawing high above you on its way around the world, and while everyone
is looking up at the future with their hands shading their eyes
Marilyn stops cleaving and Elvis leaves the house
and Pete Maravich--Pete Maravich for Chrissake!--drops
dead in a gym in Pasadena, but Keith Richards lives
and keeps on living, and plays his Fender Telecasters in open G
until few of us can listen any more to that hawkish tweedle
that says this is how it is at the end of things.
And when the big German gasbag is out of sight and hands come down
from foreheads, the screens sag and rust and paint bubbles off fascia.
Van Buren Street crumbles like peanut brittle. Even the boards
in the boarded-up windows rot, and Spohn Grocery slumps on Main Street
in full view of nobody, the name etched above the broken windows
like a tombstone for the whole family, and wind shushes the library next door.
Your job's done Ohio, done with Christmas snow clumped in the black oaks,
done with ankle-deep mud beneath the yellowjacket-ridden pear trees,
and the suffering out there in your canning cellars, the belt-whippings
in your summer kitchens, while dust motes nest on the mute piano.
How much more could you do for us than you already have?
All those sturdy Republicans gone down the road to glory,
those children of yours who climbed a tree that led right to us--
young grandchildren from the big city lying on our backs
in the yard to watch the northern lights or the Milky Way.
Just forget the Gugartys, Ohio, and the Friels, and Doc O'Malley.
Leave the dress patterns and Clabber Girl and Big Lee overalls
and while you're at it, the curtains don't matter any more, either.
It's okay to let the front door stand open.
It's okay to let the chickens run off to the fields
between Maytown and the Green River bridge,
where rain drums its jaded fingers on the mud.
The car doors down in the cemetery, they're slamming for you.
You're having every good mother's nightmare--children gone to the city
for money or California for love or Sulawesi to find themselves.
They rise like Zeppelins on their uncertain journeys.
You can still see them if you're lucky,
if you shade your eyes and the wind's right,
if you're lying in a backyard against the ground
with its hidden bones swimming away from one another,
and far beneath that, the fire that wants to break every last thing apart
because it's a hot July afternoon in the middle of a summer
that seems like it'll never end.
by Terry Spohn
when you drive past the moon
Earth's rotation changes stations
radio clear as the Mingun bell
Tokyo trance to throat-sung
punk from Tuva, twisting away
because things that turn
envy those that rise
emptiness is your highway
there's no speed limit now
open up the Acura to see
what it'll really do
don't check the blind spots
know the way a tree knows soil
you're alone in spite
of the stars' steady gaze
and those drifty Tuareg anzads
that whisper through the radio
straight into your ears
as if you were really here
by Terry Spohn