Contemporary American Poetry

By John Murillo

Another Monday and you’re out
with some poets, one of whom—
maybe you—has just given a reading,
and it’s summer and it’s Brooklyn,
or it’s the Village and it’s winter,
and you’ve landed at some dusky,
dusty dive bar, crowded around
an eight-top to order wings, shots,
and whatnot, when, halfway down
the table, you hear one poet
congratulate a second on some prize
or another while a third sulks,
sips his gimlet and pretends not
to listen, and a fourth mumbles
something about not being notified
his application was even received
and how you have to be gay or
black or both to win anything
these days and a fifth poet pushes
a plate of nachos toward you
and asks what you think about
the state of Contemporary American
Poetry and, before you can answer,
a sixth pries in, mishearing of course
the last few syllables and waxes
cerebral, something about Don Share,
or Ploughshares, or maybe even
time shares and on the television
mounted, hanging overhead,
an anchorwoman’s mouthing
the muted news of another boy
shot dead and black in some city
now burning and the police chief
promises a thorough investigation
and a Yemeni woman is burning,
splashed with acid for loving who
she chooses, and everywhere,
you think, is burning, burning and
Yes, you hear a graduate student quip
between slurps about a newly dead
master, I tried to like his work—
may he rest in peace—but try as I
might, I found him too accessible.

Another Monday and it’s summer
in Brooklyn, or it’s the Village
and winter. You’re with the poets.
One of whom—the political poet,
the outsider poet—has brought along
a selfie stick. You put your shot glass
to your mouth. What’s inside is burning,
burning. Everybody, now, squeeze in
tight. Everybody, now, say cheese.


John Murillo, “Contemporary American Poetry” from Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry. Copyright © 2020 by John Murillo. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books, All rights reserved.